The COVID-19 pandemic forced the school district to switch to virtual learning in the middle of the 2020-21 school year. During time away from classrooms, parents, teachers, and students had intentions to better the conditions inside the schools, both surrounding COVID-19 safety, and the underlying issues schools had.. After almost a year away from the classroom, the School District of Philadelphia returned to in-person learning just a few weeks ago. Before stepping into the buildings, parents had already found problems.
In a Germantown Facebook group, parent Rob Whitney posted a photo of local school Fitler Academics Plus School with small fans in the windows just a day before school opened and commented, “This is the school district of Philadelphia’s idea of adequate ventilation in lieu of AC.” Other parents and neighbors began to swarm the comments supporting his concerns. . School ventilation was one of the major parent and teacher concerns for months.
In February, members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) refused to enter schools on the reopening day due to this matter. The strike led to union negotiations and more planning to reopen.
Now, parent Whitney says that after speaking with the principal of Fitler, there are no longer fans in the windows. But, with all three of his children going to different schools, he sees issues across the district. He says that Fitler has not had any COVID-19 cases, but his other children’s schools have.
“In 2 out of 3 of my kids’ schools, there are confirmed COVID-19 cases. One goes to Pennypacker on Washington Lane, and the other goes to DeBurgos on Lehigh Avenue,” Whitney says “At [Pennypacker and DeBurgos], not all the students have masks up. You have teachers at DeBurgos who literally refuse to abide by the mask policy, so they had to be removed from their classrooms.”
Whitney says that the schools are trying their best, but the district’s lack of “uniformity” causes most problems. Everything from bell schedules to computer checkouts has proved to be an issue for Whitney’s family.
The day after Hurricane Ida lead to flooding all over the city, the district sent out a two-hour delay announcement. It was late and the delay caused Whitney to scramble around the city, dropping off and picking up his kids like many parents. The school district then announced that Friday would be a virtual learning day for students, and the irregularity of protocols proved to be another problem for Whitney.
“I was in sort of a bind,” he said. My daughter, who goes to Pennypacker, got a new computer quickly after it broke. “At Fitler, my daughter’s computer also broke, and they had her fill out a form, so she came home with no computer. She had work to do, and I had to let her use mine.”
Because his daughter was given a form the day before the virtual learning day, she could not obtain a computer until she returned to the classroom. Whitney feels that if the school district had better communication with the parents and schools when things are happening, a lot of these issues wouldn’t be happening.
“You don’t plan a two-hour delay 15 minutes before school opens up. You just don’t do that.” He emphasizes that this faulty communication doesn’t just affect his students; it affects everybody involved.”
School district communication officer, Marissa Orbanek, says that schools have their own protocols for the handling of Chromebooks. The school district did commit to having a surplus of Chromebooks on hand, but Hurricane Ida delayed shipment. But, all schools are expected to have them soon. Orbanek says the school district apologizes for their insufficient communication the day after Hurricane Ida.
“Going forward,” she said,“ we will strive for that kind of timely decision-making so families and staff can plan accordingly.”
The Germantown Info Hub is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.