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Families Scramble As 92 Philadelphia Schools Switch To Remote Learning Due To COVID-Related Staff Shortages

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- More Philadelphia schools are going to remote learning starting Wednesday. The rise in COVID cases has led to staffing shortages.

That marks 92 School District of Philadelphia schools going virtual until at least Friday. The school district will then figure out how to proceed next week.

This has left many parents and kids struggling to adjust.

A rep from the school district says the pandemic has forced them to constantly pivot. And while their top priority is to ensure that students are learning, it has to be in a safe environment.

The list of schools gone virtual for the week is now at 92 schools.

"Where we don't have the staffing, we're not going to have students in buildings," School District of Philadelphia spokesperson Monica Lewis said.

While the district's preference is to have schools open, they made it very clear that it has to be done safely.

But the initial decision to temporarily close nearly seven dozen schools due to COVID-related staffing shortages didn't come down until Monday night.

On Tuesday, some families scrambled as they tried to figure out their childcare dilemma.

"Given that we have kids in different schools -- some are virtual, doing classes at home then another one in-person -- so it's very, very inconvenient," Ajibola Lateef said.

Some students with in-person instruction at Masterman School were a little shaken up Tuesday after at least one student was sent home.

"One person in our class had COVID and they had to go home but they made the rest of us stay because we're vaccinated and have masks on," student Abibat Lateef said.

"If they can just allow the kids to go virtual it would be better because of the rate of infection. It's really high," Temi Lateef said.

The main reason students are going virtual is that the district says if there isn't enough available staff, students will have to learn from home.

"Information is coming in at a very fast pace and will require us to make decisions that could change at the drop of a hat, so we don't want to give a date and say that we'll know by X date when something's going to happen," Lewis said.

"It's not unusual, and as parents, things happen all the time and you just have to be ready to do your best with it," parent Victoria Harrison said.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan, who's been calling for a return to virtual learning, released a statement Tuesday evening, calling Tuesday "chaotic and entirely untenable."

He says over 90% of Philadelphia schools reported staffing shortages. Jordan reiterated his call for a pause on all in-person learning district-wide.

Eyewitness News was at South Philly High School on Tuesday, which is one of the three locations where families can go if they need tech support. The other two locations are at the Fitzpatrick Annex Building and Martin Luther King High School.

The centers are open this week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but on Wednesday, they close at 5 p.m.

Many students had already returned their Chromebooks after returning to in-person learning and will now have to pick up what they'll need for the next few days after the district's decision to temporarily close nearly seven dozen schools due to COVID-related staffing shortages. 

Some parents are concerned these surprise disruptions will affect the quality of their children's work.  

"I'm really confused about that because I'm a little worried about what they are learning right now," Cecilia Figuereo, who was dropping off her child at Masterman, said. "For example, my daughter was sent home in December because she was next to another child, but nobody was teaching her."

In a social media post, State Rep. Jordan Harris, who represents South Philly, said: "First, Philly schools made the right choice in closing buildings this week. Second, it was done in a completely unacceptable way at the last minute with poor communication to teachers, staff, parents, and students."

Harris added this was more than likely going to be the case, and that the district shouldn't have waited until the 11th hour to announce the closures.

The school district says they continue to follow guidance from the Philadelphia Health Department's health and safety protocols including:

  • Mandatory mask wearing for students and staff regardless of vaccination status;
  • Vaccine requirements for staff and student-athletes;
  • Weekly COVID-19 testing for employees and on-site COVID-19 testing for students who present with COVID-like symptoms during the school day;
  • Enhanced cleaning protocols during the school day and for several hours after the school day ends at every school using EPA-approved cleaning products;
  • Air & surface purifiers in all instructional spaces, gyms, cafeterias and offices;
  • Maintaining touchless hand sanitizer stations and school supplies to support frequent hand washing and sanitizing by students and staff

Click here to view the list of 92 schools moving virtual from Tuesday, Jan. 4 through at least Friday, Jan. 7.

CBS3 reporters Alecia Reid and Wakisha Bailey contributed to this story.

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