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District tells Philadelphia teachers not to teach online due to ‘equity’ concerns; quickly backtracks

Public school teachers in Philadelphia were ordered not to offer “remote” instruction during the coronavirus shutdown — because doing so would not be “equitable.”

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia School District sent a memo to school principals last week which mandated that “remote instruction should not be provided to students, including through the internet, technology at home, by phone or otherwise” (emphasis added).

The order was signed by Naomi Wyatt, Superintendent William Hite’s chief of staff, and Malika Savoy-Brooks, the chief academic support officer. It cites “recent guidance” from both the state and federal education departments.

“Students should not be required to complete new assignments or homework activities. Schools may not make independent decisions to provide remote instruction at this time. As guidance and circumstances continue to unfold, we will provide updates as necessary,” the memo continues.

“…We may not offer remote instruction to some students unless we can serve all children,” Wyatt and Savoy-Brooks wrote. “As we all know, some of our students have special instructional needs, some lack access to a computer, and some will have responsibility for taking care of younger siblings or older relatives while their parents are at work. As a result, the district is not able to provide remote instruction during the period of school closures to all children.”

Teachers at some Philadelphia schools had been offering optional remote instruction on their own before the edict went out; there was no formal program of instruction. Instead, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has encouraged parents to engage children in learning activities during the coronavirus shutdown, and has made learning guides available to families through the district’s website.

A later story points out that “after the policy was made public, the district clarified [its] stance” on Wednesday, saying that teachers can offer “optional, online lessons […] as long as those who can’t or don’t participate are not penalized.”

District spokeswoman Monica Lewis said “Wherever possible, if a teacher can be available for communication with his or her students, we encourage them to do that.”

Like Philly (initially), public schools in the Seattle district are not offering online teaching during the virus crisis. According to GeekWire, the district is following guidance from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction which said schools should not make remote learning available “unless [they] can ensure that all students will have equal access to learning.”

The Center on Reinventing Public Education’s Robin Lake told the Inquirer “providing some learning would be ‘better than nothing,'” as “not providing any education to students means the neediest will fall further behind.”

MORE: Largest community college district shuts down – no online learning

MORE: Amid coronavirus, flurry of campuses shut down, switch to online learning

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.