Testimony of Dr. Sonia Rosen to the BOE, July 23, 2020

I am Dr. Sonia Rosen. Besides being a parent of a 6th grader, I am also a teacher education faculty member at the UPenn Graduate School of Education.

There are several key issues I have with the SDP’s plan as it stands:

First, we are essentially expected to trust in the District’s ability to secure adequate PPE and maintain cleaning protocols when they have never had the capacity to even make school buildings marginally safe from dangerous environmental hazards in the past.

Second, there is no way half the students can be in a school building at once and still maintain adequate distance – which is 6 feet apart. I can’t help but note the hypocrisy here. Would the school board meet under those distancing conditions? Why are all of you not currently in a SDP classroom together, sitting a few feet apart while wearing your masks? Why are you asking teachers and students to take safety risks that the school board and district administrators are unwilling to take?

Third, this plan has laid out conditions that strip learning experiences down to their most bland, antisocial, teacher-centered components, rather than exploring ways to create more dynamic online environments in which students can at least interact in meaningful ways around texts and ideas. Online learning pales in comparison to face-to-face learning, yes, but this brand of face-to-face learning, where students are constantly being policed and having to police their own behavior, where students have to remain in rows 6 feet apart from their peers at all times, and where teachers and students feel like their lives are always at risk, is NOT the foundation for rich learning experiences. And as the digital academy is currently designed, it will remove children from their school communities and the teachers who know them.

Fourth, you will be implementing this plan just a few weeks after all the college students from the area’s 80+ colleges and universities fly or drive in from around the country to return to their dorms, which means it will be exactly at the time when we will likely see a surge in Philly’s COVID-19 numbers.

Fifth, it is delusional to think that we are not going to end up having to shut down all the schools anyway at some point in the fall, which will mean that the district will then revert to a poorly planned fully online model without having spent the time and resources to ensure more equitable access to remote instruction. It’s a lose-lose situation.

We need you to reject this reopening plan and urge administrators to shift their energies toward creating a remote learning plan that is comprehensive, safe, fair, and equitable for students, teachers, and families across the district. A new plan should consider several possibilities:

Opening school buildings to a very small number of students who meet particular criteria – for instance, students who are experiencing homelessness or those who have learning needs that cannot be met online – while all other students engage in remote learning.

As a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article suggested, we could establish small learning cohorts of 8-10 children whose caregivers are working outside of the home during the day, with those children meeting in libraries or other public spaces to engage in remote learning, supervised by an adult who is paid for the job.

Time and energy should be put into supporting teachers to develop strong online curricula and exploring pedagogies that include a mix of synchronous and asynchronous online learning. There are many resources out there to support this work.

Teachers need access to good, reliable online platforms, like Zoom and Canvas, which are being used successfully in K-12 classrooms and universities across the country.

You owe it to the city of Philadelphia to vote down this plan and institute online learning.