Philadelphia School District grapples with challenges amid remote start to school year

More than 125,000 Philadelphia School District students will embark on an academic year unlike any other on Wednesday as the coronavirus pandemic has forced schools to begin the year in a remote learning format.

Over the summer, school district officials and city leaders collaborated on back-to-school plans for the fall which included starting the year with a hybrid model. The district reneged on its original plan to put students in classrooms on an alternating schedule in late July, and instead made the decision to withhold in-person learning until mid-November.

With students learning from home for the first two months of the school year, the district is tasked with ensuring that all students are set up for success. The district, along with city leaders and private partners, has established PHLConnectED; a program that will provide free high-speed internet, digital devices and technology training to more than 30,000 low-income K-12 student households.

The plan, announced in early August, promises to lend Chromebooks, tablets and computers to students in need. The district says it has been distributing the devices throughout the summer, and encouraged parents and guardians to pick up their student's equipment over the summer break.

FOX 29's Lauren Johnson was outside the Philadelphia School District's headquarters on Wednesday with some parents and guardians who were still waiting to secure their children's devices as the official first day of school began.

"It's aggravating, extremely aggravating," said a father of three. He was back in line at the school district building on the 400 block of North Broad Street after only being given one tablet during his previous trip.

Philadelphia School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite joined Good Day on Wednesday morning to discuss the slow process of distributing the devices necessary for remote learning and when students may reenter school buildings.

"We've been distributing Chromebooks all summer long, and we are sorry that individuals have had to tolerate these long lines over the last several weeks," Hite said. 

The superintendent admitted that the virtual environment is "not a sufficient replacement for face-to-face instruction" which is why the district hopes to begin placing students back into classrooms by Nov. 17.

"There's a checklist that will determine if buildings are ready in order to receive young people and if in fact those buildings are ready and we have educators who are asking to get back into buildings to work with students, albeit in a socially distant environment with the appropriate protocols, I would love to get young people back," Hite said. 


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