Following backlash from its initial hybrid reopening plan, the School District of Philadelphia has announced it will reopen under a fully online instruction model this fall.
Under the new plan, the school year will begin under online-only platforms until Nov. 17, and will allow students to then transition to a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning if city health officials indicate it is safe to do so. The Board of Education approved the revised reopening plan in a seven to one vote on Thursday afternoon.
During the school board meeting on Thursday, parents of children in the school district's 342 schools expressed concern as to how a fully virtual model would meet the needs of younger-aged students and students with complex needs. They added concerns regarding how single and working parents would be able to provide childcare, and said a fully virtual learning model would contribute to a digital divide between students who do not have access to a digital device and those who do.
The School District of Philadelphia originally planned to reopen under a hybrid learning model, where most students would attend in-person classes two days a week, and complete digital learning three days a week. Under the previous plan, families had the ability to opt in to a fully virtual learning model for their children.
This hybrid plan received extensive criticism from parents, principals, and teachers who expressed concern about the risk of becoming sick and the school district’s capacity to maintain buildings and provide personal protective equipment.
The new plan will also launch an initiative to address students’ and staff’s mental health and socio-emotional needs. Meals will be provided to students in a model similar to the summer meal distribution program, in which all students can receive meals at designated locations throughout the city. The school district will provide support for students and families that need a device or internet access at home.
Penn professors with children in the school district predicted difficulties directly after the plan was released regarding the health and safety of their children returning to school, and the balancing act between their professional and childcare responsibilities.
Penn is continuing to forge ahead with its plans to open campus for a hybrid semester this fall. University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy declined to comment on whether the University is considering a shift to a fully online semester in a July 27 email to The Daily Pennsylvanian.