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Credit: Felicity Yick

Penn professors with children in the School District of Philadelphia predict difficulties in balancing childcare and professional responsibilities this fall.

On July 15, the School District of Philadelphia announced its plan to reopen schools after it transitioned to virtual learning in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Under the plan, which is subject to change depending on guidance from health authorities, the 342 schools within the district will engage in a hybrid model of learning. Each week, students in kindergarten through 12th grade will have two days of face-to-face instruction in a socially distanced environment, as well as three days of digital learning.

Political Science professor and Director of the Latin American and Latinx Studies Program Tulia Falleti has two children who are going into sixth and eighth grade at the Julia R. Masterman School. Falleti is worried about the safety of her children returning to school.

Even though Falleti said her children are fairly independent, she is very concerned about how she will keep up with her responsibilities as a professor while her children are home three days a week.

“It makes it impossible to work full time for my husband and me,” Falleti said. “There won’t be a full going back to work until there is a full going back to school. The two things are really related, and we will not have one or the other while we don’t have a vaccine.”

Credit: Eliud Vargas Professor Tulia Falleti has two children who are going into sixth and eighth grade.

Political Science professor Guy Grossman has two children, one who will be in ninth grade at Central High School and another who will be in second grade at Penn Alexander School. Grossman, whose wife is considered an essential worker as a midwife, is responsible for much of the childcare in his household.

Grossman is teaching PSCI 210: Contemporary African Politics in fall 2020, which will be fully online. He is concerned about simultaneously managing his job and household responsibilities, because he believes Penn students will expect more from their professors in the fall semester than they did when classes unexpectedly went online in mid-March.

“I think in the spring there was a reservoir of goodwill because everyone was understanding that we were scrambling,” Grossman said. “Last spring, students already paid their tuition and they were appreciative of the fact that we did everything we could to minimize the disruption. This coming fall, our students are expecting us to be fully committed to them.”

While Grossman said that he is skeptical of the school district's fall plan, he believes that the district is doing its very best in an “impossible position” to balance the health and academic responsibilities of its students. 

History professor Ann Farnsworth-Alvear has three children, one of whom is still in school as a junior at the Julia R. Masterman School. One of Farnsworth-Alvear’s biggest concerns is that students' education will be compromised due to the school district's mostly remote plan. 

While Farnsworth-Alvear said that the fall semester will certainly be stressful for her as she balances helping her son as well as continuing her own academic research, she feels empathetic towards other parents who lack the teaching experience to help their children throughout the learning process.

"Parents across the district are being asked to step in as tutors and proctors and classroom motivators," Farnsworth-Alvear said. "Penn faculty may have experience as educators, and some of us will draw on that, for what it's worth, but parents across the city are being asked, in many cases, to do the impossible." 

Farnsworth-Alvear also worries that the School District of Philadelphia does not have the resources it needs to adequately address the COVID-19 crisis.

She believes that now is the time for Penn to start paying Payments in Lieu of Taxes, financial contributions that property tax-exempt organizations voluntarily make to local governments, which would financially support the School District of Philadelphia. More than 800 Penn faculty and staff members have signed a petition urging the University to begin paying PILOTs. 

“The Philadelphia School District is facing an incredible level of crisis, and the way to address it is by increasing the revenue,” Farnsworth-Alvear said. “Schools have not had what they needed for decades in Philadelphia. To ask them now to invest the resources that are needed to address COVID-19 is not possible without property owners across the city thinking seriously about how to increase the revenue for public schools.”

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