A handful of school districts in the region plan to switch to virtual learning when the school year resumes next week, as cases of the coronavirus, fueled by the highly transmissible variant of omicron, reach all-time highs for the pandemic.
Districts consider postponing return of students to class – including Camden City School District and Cheltenham School District – told parents they are seeing medical officials and plan to make a decision by the end of this week. More than a dozen Montgomery County public school principals are due to meet with health officials virtually Thursday to review data on infections and evaluate their plans.
The Philadelphia School District, the largest system in the region, still plans to resume teaching at school on Tuesday. In a letter to parents last week, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the district is committed to keeping its doors open “as long as it is safe to do so.” He announced that students and staff who do not comply with the district’s mask mandate will be sent home for the day.
Those plans to reopen remain intact, district spokeswoman Monica Lewis said on Wednesday. She said district officials are working closely with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and intend to follow city guidelines.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia also said on Wednesday it intended to resume in-person instruction next week and that a mask mandate would remain in place.
As the omicron variant of the coronavirus collided with the spread of the delta variant, Philadelphia has seen a record number of new cases over the past week and high positivity rates have been reported in suburbs of Pennsylvania and across southern Jersey. Doctors say the latest wave of cases appear to be less deadly than those in the past, but health officials are still concerned that a high number of infections could overwhelm already taxed health systems.
The wave of infections also presents a new challenge for public and private school officials who, in many cases, are already grappling with staff shortages and testing challenges that may be exacerbated by transmission to the school. While most school officials receive guidance from county and state health officials, they decide whether to educate students remotely or in person.
Montgomery County health officials do not intend to tell school districts whether or not to suspend face-to-face teaching, but will regularly provide data and context so districts can decide for themselves. same, said Richard Lorraine, medical director of the county public office. Health. He said students and staff should wear masks and urged anyone who is not vaccinated and is eligible to get vaccinated.
Lorraine said a few districts across the country where there is significant community spread are considering a full remote return next week, but from her perspective, “there is no right answer to this one.”
“If you continue with appropriate mitigation strategies, it is not unreasonable to allow children to return to their normal period,” but, he said, if a district decides that distance learning is the best option, “we will support that as well.”
Philadelphia District communications and insurance mirror messages other major school systems have sent to parents amid the latest wave of coronavirus cases. On Tuesday, New York City school officials announced that students would be returning in person and doubling the number of random tests to find outbreaks more quickly.
READ MORE: CDC Finds Coronavirus Testing On Children Exposed In Schools Can Safely Replace Quarantine
But student testing is not as common in Philadelphia, said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Teachers’ Federation. In an interview on Wednesday, the union leader said that while students “learn best in their classrooms,” the district should return to virtual learning if it does not improve its mitigation strategies.
Specifically, he called on the district to provide high-quality masks to all students and staff and to test all students more systematically, whether they are symptomatic or not. The district’s current plan is to test students who show symptoms.
“The district needs to put in place effective mitigation strategies to make schools safe for children and for staff,” Jordan said. “And if they are not able to do that, then there is a need to go virtual until the district can make sure the buildings are safe.”
This is a developing story.