In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced broad closures of its schools and catechetical programs for the next 14 days.
The highly infectious and deadly virus has sickened more than 132,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000, with 1,700 cases and 41 deaths in the United States just in the past seven weeks since it was first detected in China.
In a March 13 statement, archdiocesan spokesman Kenneth Gavin said that “all high schools, parish and regional elementary schools, schools of special education, PREP (parish religious education) programs and early learning centers in the five-county Archdiocese” would be closed through March 27.
Gavin also confirmed in the release that a previous decision to suspend “all extra-curricular and co-curricular activities” – including retreats, trips, social and athletic events on and off school grounds – remains in place through the same date.
Classes will continue as schools shift from in-person education to a flexible instruction format, which will enable teachers and students to resume lessons through an online learning management system. Teachers will assign work that for students to complete at home; in turn, students will be able to communicate questions and receive support from instructors through the online system.
Parents can share their questions and concerns directly with the archdiocesan Office for Catholic Education (OCE) by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
School and PREP families, as well as staff, were notified of the decision in a March 13 joint letter from the administrators of OCE and the archdiocesan Office for Catechetical Formation. The evening prior, a similar communication was sent in response to state officials’ measures for containing the spread of the virus.
Gavin noted that at this time “there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our schools,” but stressed that the Archdiocese was striving to remain “informed, vigilant and proactive to prevent the spread of the illness.”
The closures could also affect the distribution of federally funded school meals by archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS). However, Gavin said that NDS is currently “preparing an emergency feeding plan” to address the issue. Schools that are open to continuing the program during the closures have been asked to contact NDS.
In addition, the agency’s community food program has increased deliveries to its area food cupboards to support families who rely on school meal programs. Information about these locations will be posted to NDS’s Facebook page.
The Archdiocese has convened a special task force to address the impact of the pandemic on its Catholic education mission. Gavin said in the statement that “matters are being evaluated on a daily, if not hourly, basis” as the group “continues to monitor CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommendations as well as directives from governmental agencies.”
He stressed that “the decision to adopt this course was not taken lightly” but was instead made “after careful thought, planning, consideration and prayer.”
OCE has been in “ongoing preparations” prior to today’s announcement for a possible move to flexible instruction in case of an emergency or crisis, said Gavin.
The archdiocesan communications to school families also included information from the CDC on talking with children about the virus, as well as a recently released prayer by Pope Francis invoking Mary’s intercession during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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