This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
This story has been updated.
A majority of Philadelphia teachers responding to a union survey say that they prefer a hybrid school-opening scenario ー partially online and partially in person ー with most indicating that they favor a week-on, week-off schedule.
However, it was unclear exactly what was meant by “week on, week off.” The approach was described in the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers survey as “one week on, one week virtual, with groups of students alternating.” That would mean, presumably, that teachers would be in school every day, teaching half the students one week and the other half the next week. But only 15% of the respondents showed any preference for full-time, in-school teaching with social distancing in place.
Despite the lack of clarity on what a staggered-week model would look like, the PFT recommended in the survey’s conclusion that some version of this model be adopted. This is the second survey the PFT has taken of its membership since the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of schools.
“Given the percentages of support for a staggered weeks model compared to the others, and given the overall preference for a hybrid model of returning to schools, we believe that some form of the staggered weeks model is likely best suited for the School District of Philadelphia,” the survey notes in the conclusion. “There will be a number of critical steps that will need to be taken in order to utilize this model, including analyzing to whom and how it applies. We know that a one size fits all model will not work, but we also know that district-wide decisions and protocol will be necessary.” Citing its own and other research, the report says: “[T]his is our recommended model at this time.”
Later, the union issued a clarification: “The nuances of the staggered weeks model [are] still under consideration ー there are a number of scenarios that could be implemented. The District will need to gather information regarding educators who are immuno-compromised or have other reasons for needing to work remotely. There are different considerations for how the staggered weeks is most effective from an epidemiological standpoint. Those are discussions we are looking forward to having … with the District. The survey was not meant to be fully conclusive in and of itself.”
Although they favored a hybrid model over either full online or full in-person school, teachers made it clear that they didn’t like a staggered schedule that had some students coming in the morning and a different group in the afternoon. There was somewhat more support for a staggered-days model.
In comments on a proposed staggered-week model, one teacher noted that it would not work at all at the high school level, where a teacher might have five sections and up to 150 students on their roster.
“The one week in school, one week remote seems utterly not beneficial for HS, unless you are cutting class sizes in half — am I teaching half my students one week and the other half the next week?” this teacher wrote. “That doesn’t seem to be what the explanation calls for. And how does having 33 students x 6 (5 classes plus an advisory) every day in my room help keep me or the student safe? And what does giving us a week off from each other do to help us — if we’re the same group in school and at home?”
The survey was conducted June 15-23, and nearly 6,000 of the union’s 13,000 members participated.
The members were asked to rank three choices ー full school reopening, hybrid, or full online ー on a five-point scale ranging from complete agreement to complete disagreement. On that scale, 56% of members agree or fully agree (4 or 5) with a hybrid model.
Nearly 34% think schooling should remain fully online; only about 15% favored full in-person reopening.
In comments, teachers raised a host of questions about cleaning protocols, requirements around wearing masks, and what will happen regarding teachers who have health issues and don’t want to return to in-person teaching at all. And if high numbers of teachers fear any in-person contact, that could cause a crisis ー does the District find substitutes or accommodate that teacher’s concerns? Some noted, as Superintendent William Hite has already said, that the situation may be different depending on the school.
“The schedules cannot be universal,” wrote one teacher. “What works for a small K-5 school will not necessarily work for a large comprehensive high school. Several scenarios not considered in this survey may be options.”
The PFT’s current contract expires on Aug. 30, and the union is in negotiations with the District on a new contract. It is not known whether pandemic-related working conditions will be included in the contract. PFT spokesperson Hillary Linardopoulos said via email that “what goes into the contract is decided by both parties at the table.”
Also not clear is whether the PFT has a formal role in several task forces working on reopening plans. Hite has said the District would share by mid-July a proposal with the public outlining the conditions under which school will open in the fall.
Linardopoulos said that the PFT “has been in conversations with the [School District],” but is “unclear” on how its task forces on re-opening schools are structured. Last week, as part of the Fund Our Facilities Coalition, it sent a letter to the District asking “for clarification on that and a number of other issues.” She said that Hite and PFT president Jerry Jordan are in communication and spoke Monday “about several issues surrounding reopening.”