Philadelphia school district set to begin hybrid learning in less than 2 weeks

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The School District of Philadelphia is leading an effort to show parents and teachers that it's safe to come back to school.

Superintendent Dr. William Hite and other school and health officials led the media on a tour of George W. Nebinger School in South Philadelphia, to show the measures that have been taken to protect students and teachers from COVID-19

Walking inside a classroom there were bold yellow signs on the ground telling people to keep their distance. Desks have individual plexiglass around them and are spaced out from one another. Classrooms shown on the tour were limited to six students and four students per class.

"I can confidently say that our schools are ready to open with the proper precautions in place, and that time to resume in-person learning is now," said Dr. Hite.

After months of virtual learning, students pre-k through second grade are set to return to school in less than two weeks, on February 22.

Outside each classroom, there will be an occupancy list, based on square feet and ventilation. The teachers will be trained to use a camera and microphone to reach the students learning online, while also teaching in person.

Hybrid learning will only be two days a week for students who opted for it. Students will be broken up into two groups. One group will report to school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Thursdays and Fridays will be for the second group.

The School District invested nearly $4 million to assess ventilation in every school, and in every space they intend to use, according to Dr. Hite. They will be installing window fans in 32 schools that do not have operating ventilation systems.

"I know the fans may not look pretty, or fancy, but scientifically they perform the job we need them to do," said Dr. Hite. "The fans deliver enough outside airflow to deliver enough occupancy to support the air flow of up to 18 people in the classroom, that is before we apply social distancing requirements."

Dr. Hite stressed the priority is safety, not elegance or beauty. Water fountain spouts have been taped off, but students can still fill up their water bottles contactlessly. The classroom temperatures will be at 68 or above. Once in-person learning begins, building engineers will do safety checks in classrooms to make sure the fans are operating properly, and the room temperatures are appropriate. Dr Hite added all these precautions are based on science

"It is possible to have in-person education during this period, and I think we're entering a moment where it's more possible than ever," said Susan Coffin, an attending physician with the division of infectious diseases, at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Officials added students will never leave the classroom once they're inside. They will eat in the classroom, and have their specials like art and gym in the classroom. They will only go outside for recess if the weather permits.

Teachers Action News spoke with said while virtual teaching is harder, they are opting for it right now since they do not believe it's safe to return to school yet.

"The kids are frustrated, the teachers are getting frustrated, we're getting tired, this is a lot harder for them and for us," said Felicia Atwell, a third-grade teacher at Rowen Elementary School.

Some teachers adding they want to see images of all the schools, not just Nebinger.

"They made sure they showed you a school that honestly was already being pretty well maintained," said Jennifer Ballard, a 4th-grade teacher at T M Pierce Elementary School.

Teachers rallied Monday voicing their concerns. Many parents were backing them up, saying there's been a lack of trust with the district.

"Our school unfortunately was one of the schools that had the asbestos, and lead and there were things happening at the school that wasn't properly communicated before," said Katherine Mahoney, a parent of a student at Nebinger.

However some parents are sending their students back, but with some reservations.

"A vaccination to me, it would make me feel a lot better," a Patrick Troy, a parent of a first-grader at Nebinger.

Meanwhile, the union is working with the district to make sure it's safe to return before advising teachers to report to class on February 22.
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