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Countdown, Day 40: ‘I don’t believe it’s responsible to open …’

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District of Philadelphia faces an unprecedented situation – uncertainty over whether it will be in a position to open safe and functioning schools in September.

Today the Notebook is introducing a daily feature called Countdown to Calamity? It’s an effort to highlight developments as we get closer to the opening of school in 40 days, on Sept. 9. Our purpose is to keep the urgent issues of lack of funding, capacity, and information out front, to help the public understand the dire situation, and to motivate action.

We encourage readers — parents, students, District employees, and community members — to send information about both concerns and breakthroughs to countdown@thenotebook.org.

Robert McGrogan, president of the principals’ union, is worried that schools will not be ready to open on time.

“I’m in my 25th year with the District, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he told the Notebook. “I don’t believe it’s responsible to open the vast majority of schools without being ready. Things have to be done that people don’t see getting done. It’s already past the midnight hour with regard to preparation.”

Among the problems, he said, are lack of sufficient staff in schools to register and roster students. There has been unprecedented turnover in the ranks of principals, and all school secretaries were laid off July 1, with some just being rehired. Some schools have no staff members who know basic information such as passwords for computers, access codes for the copiers and where keys are to closets, he said.

McGrogan fears a scenario in which parents and students show up only to witness chaos rather than a smooth operation.

“It could be embarrassing,” he said.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers held an "informational rally" yesterday and has mapped out a series of rallies and door-to-door canvassing efforts this month, aimed at communicating "what budget cuts and layoffs will do to public education in Philadelphia."

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