The School District of Philadelphia is requiring all of its students and faculty to wear face masks this fall when they return for fully in-person classes. The district has also spent nearly $4.5 million on air purifiers to be installed in each classroom.
The mask mandate is in effect for all faculty and students, regardless of vaccination status, according to the City of Philadelphia's COVID-19 education guidance.
Many teachers in the district, like Jesse Warren, a history teacher at Northeast High School, see the mask requirement as a "necessary evil" that will ensure a safe transition back to in-person learning.
“I don’t want to teach with a mask, but would rather teach with a mask than teach at home, online,” Warren said.
This fall, the district is giving students the choice to return to in-person instruction or to continue online learning, with no hybrid learning option. The online students will be instructed by teachers who are only teaching virtually.
The school district has also announced plans to recoup emotional and educational losses experienced by students in the past school year, which consisted of hybrid and remote instruction that caused many students to fall grade levels behind.
In a June 10 announcement to families, the district said that it plans to “provide our students with the extra time and care they will need to begin healing from the past 18 months and to successfully transition back to in-person learning and a more structured school day.”
Reflecting on the past year, Warren added that teaching his students online was a “hit or miss” experience – some of his students flourished under the new model of instruction, while others struggled greatly, with little in-between.
“The past year was a real challenge for both the students and teachers,” Warren said. “There was either very high achievement or very low. I saw the most A’s I have ever seen, but very few B’s or C’s.”
Many students struggled academically due to a lack of internet access, prompting the district to invest millions of dollars since March 20 to rectify this “digital divide". While the school board approved an $11 million request to purchase 50,000 Chromebooks for students, the approval fell short of ensuring solid education access to the 202,944 students the school district serves.
Moving forward, the availability of vaccines to those over the age of 12, as well as lower COVID-19 transmission rates, has allowed for the school district to feel comfortable sending their students and teachers back to school.
The New York Times reported an average of 90 new cases per day in Philadelphia over the past week, an infinitesimal number compared to the peak 1,235 per day average reported in December.