The School District of Philadelphia sent out letters to principals in their district on Tuesday, informing them that teachers aren’t allowed to do “remote instruction” while schools are closed to reduce or prevent transmission of COVID-19. The letter cites equity concerns among students, reports.

Administrators reveal that they cannot “confidently confirm” that students have technological access to the materials necessary to participate—that is, computers and Internet service—and have decided to rescind the expectation altogether.

The letter was signed by Superintendent William Hite, Naomi Wyatt, the district’s chief of staff, and Malika Savoy-Brooks, chief of academic support.

Amid rising questions, Hite clarifies the district will prohibit “a requirement to log in, a requirement to take attendance, and a requirement to distribute grades. If that’s not available to all children, we cannot make that available to some.”

The decision comes with some criticism and reluctance, as educators and advocates wonder if the school district is using this as an opportunity to not provide key services to students in need. Margie Wakelin, an attorney with the Education Law Center, emphasizes how concerning it would be “if the district is using the fact they would have to provide equal access for students with disability as a basis to shut down schools’ attempts to provide educational services at this time.”

The School District of Philadelphia is the eighth largest school system in the country, serving nearly 200,000 students in more than 260 schools.

As the possibility of not resuming school until at least the fall comes closer, the search for alternatives to supporting students’ educational needs continues. School districts, educators and homeschooling parents offer resources and learning guides in an attempt to fill in the equity gaps that this virus has exposed.

The effort to stabilize the community is a constant and consuming task that requires our focus, commitment and transparency. Students without access to technology should not be penalized for it, and they deserve some reprieve in the midst of COVID-19 concerns.


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