A Friends school, pre-K to 12, on 47 acres in East Falls, Philadelphia


China Exchange Ends on Bittersweet Note

China Exchange Ends on Bittersweet Note

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health notified William Penn Charter School this morning that the Chinese exchange student who fell ill last week does not have coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention test was negative, according to health officials. 

The student was one of 18 students who arrived at Penn Charter last week, with three chaperones, for a two-week exchange. The school announced to Penn Charter parents on Monday night that it would end its two-week China exchange program because of concerns and reactions to the possibility that one of the exchange students was being tested for coronavirus. The student has been in isolation with a chaperone and has been feeling consistently better.

“We regret that this program has been complicated, and now terminated, because of events that were beyond the control of the people who were excited for all the learning that this cultural exchange had promised,” Head of School Darryl J. Ford wrote in an email to Penn Charter parents last night.

In addition to anxiety among Penn Charter parents and students, and a significant increase in absenteeism which caused disruption to the educational program, schools in the region cancelled athletic events with Penn Charter teams, a public school bus driver attempted to deny transportation to Penn Charter students, and a medical professional cancelled an appointment with a Penn Charter student, citing coronavirus. 

School leaders and host parents met with public health officials on Sunday and, in an email to parents Sunday night, explained why the risk to the health and safety of Penn Charter students, families and teachers was so low that it did not merit isolating the other exchange students or closing the school. But mounting parent and student anxiety, plus spiraling reactions outside our community, became impossibly difficult to manage.

The test results were delivered to the school just as the exchange students from China were boarding a bus that would take them to New York after breakfast and goodbyes with their host families (shown above); they planned to overnight there and hopefully fly home to China the next day.

In addition to the Penn Charter community, the school considered the well-being of the exchange students visitors. The exchange students’ main concerns are whether their families are in good health and whether they will be able to return to China. However, the anxiety about coronavirus raised concerns about whether they felt welcome. “This is not the experience we wanted for them,” Ford said.

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