District plan has most Philly students in school twice a week, pushes start to Sept. 2

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UPDATE: 3:20 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Philadelphia School District is adopting a hybrid back-to-school plan that will see most students returning to their classrooms for two days a week. 

Under the blueprint announced Wednesday morning, each school will draw up individual plans, but generally one group of students will go to school on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

When they’re not at their schools, students will have online classes. Work will be assigned, and attendance will be taken, online. Special needs students will be at school four days a week. 

Teachers will have to self-screen for symptoms each day, but students will not be subjected to temperature screenings.

Superintendent William Hite said at a Wednesday media briefing that the first day of school will be delayed from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.

Immunocompromised teachers will be given the option to teach only online, and students who are ill will be kept away from school.

Dr. Barbara Klock, district medical officer, said parents will have to sign an agreement “that describes their commitment to keeping their children home when they are sick and to seek appropriate medical care when appropriate.”

Some parents, however, are still apprehensive about the safety of their children.

"If you cannot keep asbestos out of the schools, how are you going to keep COVID out of the schools?" asked Nafakha Muwwakkil, who said she’s not confident that her ninth grader will be safe starting school at Palumbo High School.

She acknowledges that in many cases, kids have to go to school so parents can work.

"I feel like our children are being used as guinea pigs,” she said. 

Alicia Crawford-Zeleniak echoes those concerns as she contemplates whether she can safely send three of her children to Masterman School and a fourth to Charles W. Henry School.

"My child, in her school, they didn't have proper hot water in their bathroom in kindergarten and I don't know if they're equipped now to truly wash their hands. I mean, they were told to use hand sanitizer for a year because they didn't have running water in the bathroom for them. I just don't think our facilities are up for it and I think it's being ignored,” she said.

Both Hite and city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley say, even with all of the precautions, COVID-19 cases are inevitable.

“There isn’t any guarantee that this will prevent all cases in schools. Let’s be clear about that," Farley said. "We do expect some cases of COVID to occur in children during the school year, but we hope to minimize that.”

And, he said, if schools are contributing to community spread of the virus, the district is prepared to close individual schools.

"Or, if it’s appropriate, we will shut down the entire system again,” Farley said.

Hite said the plan would cost around $60 million to $80 million. He said he hopes federal HEROES funding would be available to cover that.​

Vaccines 

With schools making reopening plans, parents may want to check their children's health records — and their own — to make sure vaccinations are up to date.

“We still have parents and the general public who are still afraid to go to primary care offices,” Kelly said. 

And, she said, “fall means flu.”

Adding all these events together could mean a bad flu season this fall, she explained, unless there is a “very large uptick of influenza vaccines across children and adults.”

Kelly said all health care providers can set up “catch-up” vaccinations to get kids back on schedule, and adults should also make sure they have all their shots.

“It’s the perfect storm. We have decreased trust in science and vaccinations, so we have a decreased overall number of people willing to be immunized, and then we have this pandemic that increases the number of people who are unimmunized because they were under a stay at home order or a quarantine order,” she said. 

Kelly said vaccinations for kids, or pneumonia and flu vaccines for adults, are key.

“Vaccinations are the most successful public health project and public health ‘win’ in our lifetime. Saves more lives, only second to clean water,” she said.

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KYW Newsradio's Mike DeNardo, Kim Glovas and Hadas Kuznits contributed to this report.