Dr. William Hite

by Sue Ann Rybak

The School District of Philadelphia said it would begin formal, online instruction May 4 as part of its “Continuity of Education plan.” Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the district had received the 50,000 Chromebooks it purchased for its Chromebook loaner program. The district plans to distribute the Chromebooks, in addition to the 40,000 devices it already has by mid-April. Beginning April 20, it plans to offer enrichment activities or review activities for students.

“We want to start grading in May, but that is going to depend on how many children still don’t have access,” Hite said. “One of the things we are emphasizing to all families and students is that we want them to pick up these devices as quickly as possible.”

In a Facebook Live post, Hite said, “Every K-12 student in the district who needs a Chromebook will get one, and if that’s more than one student in the household, then we want to make sure each student in that household gets one.”

There is no fee to participate in the laptop loan program. Principals will notify families when the computers become available for pick-up. Hite added that the district is taking numerous precautions to minimize social contact and to protect the health and well-being of families and staff. He said the district would have drive-up options where possible and walk-up options with minimal contact.

In addition to providing the devices, he said the district would continue to work with the city to create a comprehensive list of low-cost Internet options or access to free wi-fi mobile hotspots across the city.

When asked at a press conference on April 3, if he thought the current devices would be sufficient to fulfill the needs of Philadelphia Public School Students, Hite replied, he didn’t have the numbers yet.

A 2019 survey by the district found that only:

  • 45% of students in grades 3-5 have access to the internet from a computer at home.
  • 56% of students in grades 6-8 have access to the internet from a computer at home.
  • 58% of students in grades 9-12 have access to the internet from a computer at home.

However, thanks to the generosity of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and his wife Aileen Roberts, who donated $5 million through their foundation, and 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, who donated $2 million, Philadelphia was able to buy enough laptops for students.

Hite added that district would be observing Spring Break from April 6-9, and the entire district will close on April 10 for Good Friday.

The district will shift from four marking periods to three marking periods. Hite said on Facebook Live on April 2, that the 3rd marking period would remain open until the end of the year to allow students to “gain the content, skills, and credit, they may have otherwise, proceeding in a traditional school year.”

Despite the school district’s efforts and state’s additional resources, Hite said, “There is no remote learning plan that will be able to replace the quality teaching and learning that happens in the classroom.”

For more information about the School District Chromebook loaning program, go to www.philasd.org/coronavirus/chromebooks. The SDP invites the public to join them on Facebook Live every Wednesday at 3 p.m. for updates on the coronavirus, school closures, meal plans, learning guides and more. People can also call the SDP Hotline Mon-Thurs, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. at 215-400-5300 or email covid19info@philasd.org.