This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Superintendent William Hite announced Friday that Philadelphia’s schools would close for two weeks and said that the decision was brought about by Gov. Wolf’s decision to limit travel for all people in Montgomery County.
“That decision has created a significant staffing challenge for our School District, as many of our employees reside in these counties and are now unable to come to work,” said a District news release.
(Later in the afternoon, Wolf announced that all schools in the Commonwealth would close for two weeks.)
Hite made the announcement shortly after Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley cited a Centers for Disease Control recommendation that is not advising mass school closings. “From a public health perspective, we are not recommending closing of schools,” Farley said.
City Managing Director Brian Abernathy noted that the decision is likely to cause hardship for many families.
Yet reports from schools indicated that many Philadelphia schools that remained open – 63 were closed due to lack of staffing from the virtual lockdown in Montgomery County imposed by the governor – were having trouble functioning, with widespread absenteeism among teachers and students.
Hite cited this in his announcement.
Hite: Our #PHLed schools are not closing because of coronavirus outbreak. They're closing because of staffing issues. The safest place for our kids is school, but we can't keep them open.— Kristen Graham (@newskag) March 13, 2020
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers sent a letter to Hite on Friday morning saying that conditions in many schools were unsafe because inadequate staff members were present and large groups of students were in small rooms.
Among other complaints, the union cited insufficient supplies and inadequate communication about why some schools remained open after reports of exposure. It also repeated its dissatisfaction with the use of non-alcohol-based sanitizer.
Mayor Kenney said that the city is trying to make sure that students continue to get school meals during the shutdown.
In making the announcement, Hite noted that it is not easy in Philadelphia to do online learning.
Supt Hite: Unlike some counties, #PHLed doesn't have technology capabilities to send kids home with computers. We will prepare 10 days worth of work in packets that parents can pick up at places and times TBD.— Kristen Graham (@newskag) March 13, 2020
The schools will be closed through March 27. Spring break was scheduled for the week of April 6.
Officials said “we are working on plans for spring break” and also working on getting study packets to all children by next week, including those enrolled in schools that were closed on Friday. It appears that any spring break plans would also depend on developments with the spread of the virus, as well as on the governor and actions by the state.