This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
With opening day for students less than a week away, SEPTA has unveiled a simplified system for students who were displaced by the 24 school closings to find their new school.
About 55,000 students use SEPTA’s buses, subways and trains to get to school. To make sure that students from closed schools, including the very youngest, have new travel routes, SEPTA has launched a new feature to their site called School Trip Planner.
Flanked by SEPTA officials, Fran Burns, the District’s chief operating officer, announced the new feature on Tuesday.
School Trip Planner is essentially SEPTA’s Trip Planner, except that it saves a few steps. Students can look up their old school, and a link to the new school appears next to it. By clicking on the address of the new school, SEPTA will autofill the address into its Trip Planner tool, saving the need to find and enter the new school’s address. Also provided are all the route options available near the school.
Ron Hopkins, a SEPTA official, said that SEPTA schedules had also been adjusted to better serve the schools and accommodate students’ new travel routes. He also recommended that parents reduce travel anxiety by talking to students.
"At the end of the day, we want to provide safe transportation for the students," said Hopkins.
City Year, the federal nonprofit that assists high-need schools, also announced that it will place members on SEPTA routes. Ric Ramsey, the executive director of City Year Greater Philadelphia, said members would interact with students and serve as "eyes on the ride for SEPTA." Commuting together with the students, he said, "would mitigate any rumblings of anxiety from students."
Last month, the mayor’s office announced its WalkSafePHL plan, a mostly volunteer-staffed collaboration between city, civic, and other local organizations, to ensure the safe travel of students to schools.
Superintendent William Hite addressed parental concerns about the effectiveness of the WalkSafePHL plan in an interview with NBC 10’s Steve Highsmith last week. Hite said he shared those worries and pointed to additional places where information could be found. Those resources, he said, included the WalkSafePHL website, the mayor’s office, Safe Corridors, the School District, and individual schools.
"What we have set up are plans for all of those respective neighborhoods, in terms of what time of day will we have corridors or routes to schools and what people will be out there to assist the students," Hite said.
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.
This feature, appearing each weekday, is an effort to highlight developments and motivate action as we get closer to the beginning of the school year. We encourage readers to send us information about both concerns and breakthroughs to email@example.com.