All students and staff in the School District of Philadelphia will be required to wear masks for the first 10 days of the coming school year as part of an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. After that, masking will be optional, regardless of vaccination status, unless transmission rates spike in the city.
The 10-day masking period, which runs from the first day of school on Aug. 29 through Sept. 9, is intended in guard against the COVID-19 transmission that could occur at end-of-summer gatherings students and district employees may attend before returning to classrooms, Dr. Kendra McDow, the district’s chief medical officer, said at a press conference Friday.
The public school district’s COVID-19 protocol for the 2022-2023 school year also includes a new mask-to-stay policy for students exposed to the coronavirus, lifting the vaccine requirement for student athletes and a reducing of the quarantine time for those who test positive for COVID-19.
After the mandatory period of face masks at the start of the school year, the Philadelphia school district’s requirement will be determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the CDC determines there is a high level of community spread in Philadelphia, face masks would become mandatory again in schools and offices and on buses.
Once the transmission rate returns to a medium level, the masks can come off.
McDow said the COVID-19 transmission rate in Philadelphia currently is medium. Even at that level, mask wearing is encouraged but it is optional.
There also will be times when masks are required following extended breaks in the school year for holidays. McDow said the reasoning is the same as the mask mandate at the start of the year: the likelihood of students and staff attending gatherings leading to greater chances the coronavirus will spread.
The district utilized a similar policy last spring after dropping its mask mandate in early March. Students and staffers were required to wear them during the week that followed spring break. But they otherwise remained optional until late May, when the district re-instituted its mask requirement in response to increased transmission.
“We are committed to keeping students in school for in-person learning,” McDow said.
On a smaller scale, face masks will be required for students and teachers who are exposed to classroom or school-wide outbreaks, McDow said.
The district no longer requires student-athletes to be vaccinated. Last year, they were the only group of students with that requirement.
“We wanted to make sure that we were equitably applying the vaccine mandate across the board, if we were going to continue with it,” McDow said.
Daily, pre-arrival COVID-19 screenings will not return either, but parents are asked to continue monitoring their children for symptoms.
The test-to-stay policy for students who have been exposed to the coronavirus, but not developed symptoms, will be replaced with a mask-to-stay policy. Those students will be required to wear masks for 10 days at school.
The quarantine period for students who test positive for COVID-19 is now five days, reduced from 10. After isolating for five days, students can return to school if they no longer have symptoms, but they must wear masks for another five days.
Testing will be an important element of the district’s COVID-19 protocol, even though it’s optional. The district encourages all parents to opt their children into the program through a form available online.
There will also be five district-operated testing locations at Philadelphia schools. They will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
• South Philadelphia High School – 2101 S. Broad St.
• Samuel Fels High School – 5500 Langdon St.
• Overbrook High School – 5898 Lancaster Ave.
• Martin Luther King High School – 6100 Stenton Ave.
• Thomas Edison High School – 151 W. Luzerne St.
Positive tests must be reported to a student’s school nurse or the district via email at email@example.com.
The school district additionally is monitoring the spread of monkey pox, McDow said, but “the risk is low for children.”
All the latest information about the district’s response to COVID-19 will be available on its online Coronavirus Information Hub.