District plans to bring back middle schoolers next month

School District of Philadelphia headquarters on North Broad Street.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

The School District of Philadelphia announced plans Monday to bring 6th to 9th grade students, as well as those with complex needs in grades 10 through 12, back into school buildings for in-person classes next month.

Who’s not coming back — high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. They will finish the term online, district officials said; however, they will likely get to have an in-person graduation.

In this round of reopening, students will return for face-to-face classes twice a week beginning on May 10, just a month before schools are dismissed for the summer.

“We are excited to offer more students the opportunity to engage in-person learning and other activities that will allow for them to safely connect with their school communities,” Superintendent William Hite said in a statement.

All teachers and other school staff who are working remotely have been told to report to buildings April 26, unless they have health accommodations.

Families will have the option of enrolling their children in the hybrid plan, which still includes three days of virtual learning. A one-week selection window will open next Tuesday, April 20, and students whose parents do not fill out an online form will remain in remote instruction.

Complex needs refers to students who have autism or multiple disabilities, as well as those who are deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired or are participating in life skills support classes, according to the district.

Graduations may go forward, as long as they are outdoors and the conditions around the COVID-19 pandemic allow for such gatherings, officials said.

All high school graduates will receive free caps and gowns, and students who have already paid for the clothing will be reimbursed.

School principals will also have the opportunity to hold outdoor “move-up” ceremonies and end-of-the-year celebrations.

Tuesday is the last day for parents of students in 3rd to 5th grades, as well as complex needs grades 6 to 8, to enroll in the district’s hybrid program. Those who do sign up will be contacted by Monday, April 19, with next steps.

That group of students, part of the district’s second phase of reopening, is set to return to classrooms the week of April 26.

Younger students began coming back last month, with elementary schools opening on a rolling basis as the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers evaluated building conditions following a mediation process.

Last week, the district launched a public COVID-19 dashboard after criticism from parents and staff.

According to the online tool, a total of 64 students and staff members have tested positive, and 12 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 out of about 1,200 tested last week.

All teachers and other school employees who participated in a vaccination program operated by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have had the chance to receive their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Nearly 11,000 district workers have been inoculated, officials said Thursday.

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