School District of Philadelphia Proposes Digital Learning for All Students to Start 2020-2021 School Year
Today, the School District of Philadelphia shared revisions to its Advancing Education Safely plan. After careful consideration of all of the feedback it has received, District leadership is now proposing to start the school year with all students learning remotely for the first marking period which ends November 17. Students would then transition to the hybrid learning model — a mix of in-person and digital learning — as long as guidance from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and other indicators support it is still safe to do so. The proposed changes will be presented to the Board of Education during its Action Meeting on Thursday, July 30. The meeting, which will start at 4 p.m., can be viewed via live stream from the District’s website.
The District’s proposed approach includes five days per week of digital learning for all students who will receive instruction from teachers in their enrolled school. Chromebooks will be available to any student who may still be in need of a device for digital learning and the District is continuing to work with local legislators and business leaders to determine how families can secure reliable internet access for the entire school year.
Since announcing its Advancing Education Safely reopening plan on July 15, the District has heard from many families and educators who were uneasy about the plan as well as many who were in favor of it.
“We continue to prioritize health and safety, a mix of in-person and digital learning for all students, and using feedback from our school communities to inform decision making,” said Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D. “I’ve actively listened to all of the feedback we have received, and believe we must take the time needed to gain the trust and support of our school community as we pursue a plan that will help our children learn in an environment none of us has ever experienced before.”
On Thursday, the Board of Education will reconvene to consider updates to the Health and Safety Plan components of the plan. If approved by the board, these changes will go into effect immediately as the District prepares for the start of school. The Board will also vote on a revised 2020-2021 school calendar that reflects classes for students beginning on Wednesday, September 2.
The decision to pursue a fully-digital learning and instructional model shows the importance of everyone being flexible during these unprecedented times.
“These changes were not made lightly. All of the decisions we are making due to the COVID-19 pandemic are difficult ones with no obvious answers for how to account for the many, and often competing, needs of our students, staff and families,” Hite said.
“As I’ve stated many times before, this school year will be a challenge for us all, as we learn how to cope with this ‘new normal.’ And being flexible will be essential for us all.”
The District will still implement Healing Together, an initiative to help meet the mental health, trauma and social-emotional needs of students and staff using support from trusted local partners. Central Office staff will also work on a staggered schedule that promotes social distancing. Such steps will be done following all health and safety protocols developed from guidance of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia PolicyLab and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Recognizing that school buildings are where many students receive regular access to healthy meals, the District will continue to provide meal distribution to students when the school year begins. The service will look very similar to the support the District has offered families through its meals distribution program, which has provided just under 4 million meals to students since March.
The revised plan will also allow for the District to continue addressing environmental work in its schools. Members of the Facilities and Operations department will work on ventilation issues and expand the scope of other improvement work necessary to ensure buildings are prepared for reoccupancy when students and staff can return to in-person learning and instruction.
Board of Education President Joyce Wilkerson echoed Dr. Hite’s remarks about flexibility, stressing that patience and understanding will be key for everyone who cares about how children will receive a high-quality education during this pandemic.
“We realize there are a lot of questions around how our students and staff will return to school,” Wilkerson said. “Given the unpredictable nature of COVID-19 and how it has and will continue to impact our lives, the one thing we know for certain is that we’ll have to be patient and willing to work together to ensure that the health and well-being of everyone remains our top priority.”