This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The impasse between SEPTA and the Transit Workers Union Local 234 is affecting about 30,000 students who rely on public transportation to get to school, causing a noticeable drop in student attendance.
According to the District, on Wednesday, day two of the strike, elementary school attendance dipped by nearly 5 percentage points compared to the Wednesday before. In middle schools, 81 percent attended on Tuesday and 86 percent on Wednesday, compared to nearly 95 percent on those days during the previous week.
For high schools, where more students rely on public transportation, only 61 percent of students made it to school on Tuesday and 71 percent attended school on Wednesday. That compares to just under 90 percent average daily attendance the week before.
“We remain hopeful this interruption will end soon so students, families, teachers, administrators and staff can all get back to their regular schedules,” said Lee Whack, spokesman for the School District of Philadelphia.
Negotiations between the union and SEPTA failed to reach an agreement on working conditions, wages, and pensions by the Nov. 1 deadline. There are reports of the two sides nearing an agreement, but any major progress is yet to be seen.
District officials said that schools will remain open throughout the strike, but that student absences caused by the strike will be excused with a note from a parent or guardian.
Schools such as Academy at Palumbo, a magnet school in South Philadelphia, saw a huge decrease in attendance during the first two days of the strike. On a typical day, the average attendance for the school is around 96 percent, but with no bus or train service, that number dropped by more than a third.
And for some of the students who make it to school, their working parents are picking them up during breaks in their work schedule, said Palumbo principal Kiana Thompson. The strike is also affecting Palumbo’s afterschool programs.
“It’s a big inconvenience, but we’re working through it the best we can,” she said.
Shani Ferguson, the parent of a 6th-grade student at Girard Academic Music Program, said she and her son normally ride the same bus, but in opposite directions, from their Graduate Hospital neighborhood. Because of the strike, she has to add an hour to her commute to drive her son to school in South Philadelphia before going to work in Old City. The traffic makes her late to work.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Ferguson. “I am a strong supporter of the union, but there is no denying it’s costly in terms of time and money.”
School District of Philadelphia attendance before and during SEPTA strike
School District of Philadelphia