PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The School District of Philadelphia has announced that students will not be in the classroom full-time when the new school year begins.
Instead, the district is planning a split schedule, which includes two days in the classroom and three days of virtual learning.
The district will also be offering a fully virtual program for families that are not comfortable sending their children back to the classroom.
"There is still a need that children need to engage with adults and teachers, and that is the reason why we didn't start with all-virtual," said Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Dr. William Hite. "In order to maintain social distancing, we can only take a percentage or a portion of our populations in schools at one time. So that's why we could not do the five days completely."
Everyone will be required to wear face coverings or masks, adhere to frequent hand washing, and practice social distancing.
The district is also seeking to change the date for the first day of school for students to Wednesday, September 2, 2020, to allow teachers an additional week to prepare.
They hope for board approval in late July.
District officials also warned that it's "highly likely" that evolving COVID-19 conditions will require individual schools or even the entire district to shut down temporarily or even for the balance of the school year.
"This school year will challenge all of us in new ways," Superintendent William Hite Jr. said in a video message. "This new normal will not be simple or easy."
While they're at school, students and staff will be required to wear masks, with face shields offered as an alternative for younger students, according to the plan. Masks or shields will be required on buses, as well.
The district said it wants to limit classroom occupancy to 25 "when feasible," and that schools should install Plexiglas barriers in classrooms that aren't big enough to space desks at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart.
The School District of Philadelphia is Pennsylvania's largest, with an enrollment of about 200,000.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said they are concerned about returning in person and pointed to the lack of ventilation in school buildings.
"That can be a big problem in a number of our buildings because they are old and our members who work in areas that have no windows," said Jordan.
The school reopening plan outlines adding portable fans to increase air circulation, will replace air filters and ensure windows are operable and secure.
"If we have high rates of community spread and we believe the school system is contributing to that, in some important way, that would be our criteria to shut down the entire system," said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.
The split schedule includes most K-12 students. They will be split into two groups and assigned two days of face-to-face learning on either Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday.
Students will have virtual learning on the days they are not in the building.
The district said it is making every effort to ensure siblings in a household are in the same group.
Students with complex needs and pre-kindergarten students will attend school Monday-Thursday.
All students will be learning virtually on Fridays.
"Families with students attending Monday/Wednesday face-to-face and Tuesday/Thursday face-to-face will need to identify childcare opportunities three days a week on digital learning days," the district said.
The district is also offering a Digital Academy, a fully virtual instructional program.
The registration process is expected to begin at the end of July, the district said.
Students who opt for the Digital Academy must remain in that model throughout the first quarter and will only be able to transition out at the start of a new quarter.
The district said it is committed to making sure students have the appropriate technology and internet access for virtual learning.
Students who use school district transportation must adhere to the following rules:
-Families conduct a daily screening of their children at home, before their children leave for school
-Masks are required to be worn while riding a school bus, van or sedan/cab
-Hand sanitizer will be applied to children's hands before boarding the vehicle
-There will be assigned seats and social distancing will be implemented
-Revised procedures for loading and unloading will be implemented
-Enhanced cleaning protocols will be followed
Students who use SEPTA must follow the transit agency's guidelines, which includes the use of face coverings while riding. Social distancing should also be practiced.
The district said it is working with SEPTA on identifying more opportunities for student safety.
Schools will be implementing what is known as the cohort model when possible, the district said. A cohort is defined as: the same group of students who stay in the same classroom throughout the day with the same teacher and do not mix with other students to the extent feasible.
There will be signs, floor decals and colored tape indicating social distancing parameters and traffic flow throughout school buildings.
Clear physical barriers will be installed in reception areas and school offices. Layouts for desks, tables, chairs, and others items will be implemented to promote social distancing in classrooms and common areas.
The maximum number of people in a classroom including the teacher will be 25, when feasible. Schools will consider using alternative spaces like gymnasiums, auditoriums and cafeterias to accommodate classes with larger numbers of students when class sizes cannot be reduced.
Some desks will be removed while others will have an 'X' on them.
The district said staggered times should be in place for hallway use.
Timing of use of restrooms and other facilities will be monitored to minimize the number of students or staff in restrooms and hallways at any given time.
Employees, students, visitors and contractors are required to wear a face mask or other approved face covering that covers their mouth and nose while on District grounds, with limited exceptions.
The district will provide one complimentary cloth mask to each staff member, or staff may choose to wear their own mask.
Students and teachers in grades Pre-K - 5 will receive face shields and masks. The district will supply students with a maximum of two face shields and five masks per week as needed. Pre-K -5 students will wear either face shields or masks when riding on district-provided transportation.
The district said students and teachers in grades 6 - 12 will be required to wear masks. The district will supply a daily mask for students. Students may also choose to wear their own masks. Teachers in grades 6-12 will not receive daily masks.
The district said acceptable masks include disposable surgical masks, cloth masks purchased or made from household items, and gaiters. Clothing and household items (like scarfs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels) are not acceptable in original form for use as masks on district grounds.
The district said exceptions to mask requirements will be made if wearing a mask is not possible due to medical conditions, disability impact, or other health or safety factors. Face shields will be a viable alternative to masks for those with medical, behavioral or other conditions precluding them from wearing masks.
Students will be instructed when they may take "mask breaks" and remove their masks, such as during mealtimes and when outdoors and more than six feet apart from other people. Mask breaks will be 15 minutes maximum.
The district said all employees will be required to complete daily self-reporting by completing an online Pre-Entry Screening Form to verify if they are symptom-free and have not had recent exposure to someone with COVID-19.
The district is requiring all families to conduct a daily screening of their children at home, before their children leave for school. This will involve taking temperatures, monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, and recent exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
At the start of the school year, families will be required to sign the COVID-19 School Health & Safety Agreement that says they will keep their children home when sick and seek appropriate medical care.
Current guidance from the CDC and Philadelphia Department of Public Health does not recommend testing of all students and staff prior to their initial return to school or work, the district said.
The district is not currently planning to offer or require COVID-19 testing of its students and employees prior to school opening. The School District of Philadelphia will not conduct any on-site COVID-19 testing for those with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19.
If an individual in a school or office is confirmed, suspected or has been in contact with someone with COVID-19, the district's point of contact will notify the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and receive direction on next steps which could include a quarantine of the class or school.
Hand sanitizer stations will be mounted outside of entrances/exits, entryways of cafeterias and bathrooms, at the ends of hallways and inside of Health Suites. Classrooms will also be provided with hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, the district said.
Identified 'high touch points' will be disinfected at a higher frequency of at least every four hours.
Each school building will be equipped with EPA registered COVID-19 virucide and disinfecting equipment/supplies to support increased cleaning protocols. All schools will be equipped with electrostatic backpack sprayers to support custodial staff.
The district said custodial staff will ensure that all sinks are working and have clean running water, soap and paper towels. If a sink becomes inoperable, immediate steps will be taken to repair it or a hand sanitizer will be provided in its place until the repair occurs.
To increase ventilation, schools will be replacing air filters, ensuring windows are operational and secure to allow for increased outdoor air flow, and increasing circulation of air as much as possible by adding portable fans.
All students will be offered a grab-and-go breakfast as they enter the school building and are able to eat in their classroom.
For lunch, students will have some options. They will either maintain six feet of social distancing while traveling through serving lines and sit at assigned seats 6 feet apart in the cafeteria and/or return to the classroom to have their meal, or come to a designated food station in the hallway and return to the classroom to eat.
The district said students will be required to clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer prior to and immediately after eating.
During the hybrid schedule, students will receive breakfast and lunch meals for the days they will be learning from home. Students will be able to pick up these meals as they are leaving the school building at the end of each day when they are attending school in person.
If enrolled in the Digital Academy, students will receive a box of five breakfast and five frozen lunch meals, to be picked up at a location closest to their homes.
The district said students should bring their own water bottles that are clearly labeled with their name. Touchless hydration stations will be used for replenishing water.
CREATING THE PLAN
District officials said they developed the plan using feedback from families, students, staff, community members, health experts, city leaders, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and town halls.
The district's plan was guided by a set of principles: health and safety, continuous high-quality instruction, educational equity, data-driven decision making, flexibility, and accurate and timely communication.
District officials said the current plan may change, perhaps many times, before the school year begins because of the coronavirus conditions.
"We know that the upcoming school year will be a challenging one for all of us. It is highly likely that COVID-19 conditions will require the temporary closure of schools or perhaps the entire District at times. We must all plan for those realities. As I've shared before, the best way to work through a crisis is together. And by working together, we can advance education safely and help our students continue to learn and grow," Superintendent Dr. William Hite said.
Forty-seven percent of the 15,000 parents/guardians who completed the survey said they would send their children back to school under current circumstances. That number rose to 62 percent if safety measures are in place.
Twenty-eight percent of school-based staff and 27 percent of parents would feel most comfortable if students were sent back in shifts on alternating days of the week.
The survey also found the top three safety measures that respondents believe would help with "the development of a safe and effective reopening plan" are mask-wearing (30 percent), daily building cleaning (14 percent), and handwashing/sanitizer stations (14 percent).
On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers released its recommendations for the School District of Philadelphia if students are to return in-person in the fall.