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Here’s how Philadelphia public schools will operate this fall

Kensington Health Science Academy (KHSA). (Photo by Erin Blewett)

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, The School District of Philadelphia’s upcoming 2020-2021 school year will operate differently than in the past. 

On Wednesday, the school district released an official reopening plan after receiving feedback on earlier proposals from over 36,000 people. Back in June, the district shared an outline of possible strategies they were considering for reopening schools in the fall.

For Pre-K through 12th grade students, the new plan restricts the number of people in school buildings, continues digital learning, and requires people to wear face masks. The changes are an attempt by the district to reduce the risk of someone getting sick from coronavirus at school. 

Additionally, the district is considering moving the first day of school from Monday, Aug. 31 to Wednesday, Sept. 2. The school board will vote in late July whether to approve or deny that date change.

You can read The School District of Philadelphia’s entire reopening plan, which is available in several languages, here. Below is a summary of the most important portions of the plan.

Modified schedules

Hybrid learning: two days in school, three days at home

The reopening plan includes a hybrid learning approach, which combines digital learning with face-to-face learning. Once in effect, students will spend two days a week in a physical classroom and three days a week at home for digital learning. 

To make this work, students will be separated into two groups. One group will come into the school building for face-to-face learning on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other group will come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Additional Information

  • In-person meetings, such as student-teacher and staff meetings, are discouraged and will take place in a virtual setting whenever possible. 
  • The school district will not provide child care for students during their digital learning days, so parents and guardians who need child care should prepare to find services for those days. 
Source: The Philadelphia School District

Student cohorts

Students will be assigned to a specific “cohort” for their two days in school. A cohort is the same group of students who will use the same classroom throughout the day. Students in Pre-K through 5th grade will have the same primary teacher throughout the day, while students in grades 6-12 will remain in an assigned classroom with teachers cycling in for each subject. By using cohorts, the district aims to limit physical interactions between individuals and reduce the risk of the virus spreading. 

Desks, tables, and chairs will be spread 6 feet apart to follow social distancing guidelines. A maximum number of 25 students, teachers, and staff will be allowed in the same classroom at a time. If a class cannot be reduced to 25 people, schools may use alternative spaces like gymnasiums, auditoriums, and cafeterias to accommodate larger groups. 

Digital Learning

Opting-in to all digital learning

For families who are hesitant to let their kids go back to school, the district is offering “Digital Academy,” a fully virtual instructional model. The school district will release instructions on how to register for “Digital Academy” on July 22. Once registered, students in “Digital Academy” must take virtual classes for at least the first quarter (from September to November) and cannot transition back to their building until the next quarter.

Access to digital learning

The district is continuing to provide Chromebooks and Internet resources to those that need them. For help with your Chromebook, you can visit the Chromebook Support Center locations, call the support hotline at 215-400-4444, or email


COVID-19 testing

The district will not provide or require COVID-19 testing for students and employees prior to schools opening. To find a COVID-19 testing site in the city, click here.

Response to positive COVID-19 test

If a student, teacher, or employee tests positive for COVID-19, the district may order a class or entire school to quarantine at home. If a student tests positive for COVID-19 but does not exhibit symptoms, that student must partake in remote, digital learning. Their attendance will be marked as if they were attending in-person classes each day.

Health guidelines

Hygiene practices

Everyone in the school buildings must follow these guidelines: 

  • Wear a face mask.
  • Participate in daily screenings of symptoms.
  • Wash their hands or use hand sanitizer after arriving at school, before eating, after using the restroom, and before putting on or taking off their mask.
  • When washing hands, use soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Practice good respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or elbow. 
  • Stay home if feeling sick or displaying symptoms associated with COVID-19. Students or staff who appear to be sick will be sent home immediately.

Face masks

All school district employees, students, visitors, and contractors are required to wear a face mask while on school district grounds or transportation services.

  • Staff and students may wear their own approved mask or use a complimentary face mask provided by the district. 
  • The district will supply Pre-K to 5th grade students with a maximum of two face shields and five masks per week. 
  • The district will supply masks daily for students in grades 6-12. 
  • Teachers in grades 6-12 will receive one cloth mask per week.

Daily health screenings at home

All families will be required to use the Pre-Arrival Screening checklist to conduct daily health screenings of their children. This screening should be done at home before leaving for school. 

  • If any statements on the Pre-Arrival Screening checklist are true, the family must keep the student at home and contact the student’s healthcare provider.
  • At the start of the school year, families must sign the COVID-19 School Health & Safety Agreement, a commitment to keeping sick children at home and seeking appropriate medical care for them.


Going to school

  • Students are required to wear masks while riding a school bus, van or car.
  • Parents should apply hand sanitizer to their children’s hands before boarding a vehicle.
  • Assigned seats and social distancing will be implemented. 

Entering school

Students will line up with their cohort while maintaining social distancing as they arrive. Cohorts will enter buildings through different doors to increase the physical distance between groups of students. Once inside, student cohorts will follow specific pathways within school buildings and between buildings and transportation.

Moving throughout school

  • Six feet of social distancing while traveling in hallways.
  • No more than four people to an elevator.
  • Stairs should be used whenever possible.
  • Staggered times should be in place for hallway and restroom use.

Plans can change throughout the year 

If COVID-19 conditions worsen, the district may enact temporary or permanent shutdowns of school buildings and shift to all-digital learning. So, be prepared.

Additional Resources

For more resources and guidance on navigating the coronavirus pandemic in your community, visit our COVID-19: North Philly’s guide to navigating the impact of coronavirus.

You can view the district’s reopening plan FAQ page, here.

The school district is still requesting feedback on their reopening plan. You can take their survey in several languages, here.

Editors: Claire Wolters, Zari Tarazona / Designer: Henry Savage