This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Public school students in Philadelphia will soon begin a more official version of online school — and the details of that experiment are taking shape.
Starting May 4, teachers will be expected to hold three hours of “daily instruction,” according to a School District of Philadelphia “continuity of education” plan sent to staffers and shared with WHYY. That daily instruction is supposed to include live video chats between students and teachers as well as “small group instruction.”
Students are expected to participate in these daily lessons “to the extent possible,” according to the plan. The assignments handed out from May 4 until the end of the academic year on June 12 will be graded and counted as part of students’ third-marking-period scores.
Crucially, however, any grades students receive in the third marking period can only improve their overall grades, according to the District’s “continuity of education” plan. Students will effectively not be penalized if they don’t complete assignments.
Student attendance will not be recorded and monitored, the plan says. But teachers are told to “track who is participating and who is not participating and communicate to those students who are not participating to offer support.”
On Monday, Philadelphia’s public school system officially began “Phase 3” of its online learning plan, which includes review assignments and more structure for students and teachers. This middle step in the District’s weekslong virtual ramp-up does not include grades or new material, and asks teachers to hold 90 minutes of virtual “office hours” every day.
The hope, District leaders have said, is to use the next two weeks to troubleshoot any problems that might arise.
Then, on May 4, the more rigorous learning is supposed to begin.
“School is still in. We might not be in the buildings, but school is definitely in session,” said District spokesperson Monica Lewis.
“We worked really hard to put together a comprehensive plan,” she added. “This is obviously not the ideal situation. But we are working diligently to make sure our students have access to the best education possible.”
Here is the complete plan that District administrators sent to school staff about the next phase of student instruction.
Advocates and parents have pushed Philadelphia to provide a more comprehensive virtual education for its public school students. But the District faces tremendous hurdles that have slowed its speed, including the fact that many of its 130,000 students did not have a home laptop or tablet.
To remedy that, the District bought tens of thousands of Chromebooks for students and distributed them over the course of two weeks.
The District has also had to coordinate a massive meal plan for low-income students that would normally receive free- or reduced-price lunch in schools. As of last Friday, the city had distributed 1.1 million student meals.
In the meantime, five weeks elapsed without formal instruction in Pennsylvania’s largest school district. Plans moving forward for the roughly 70,000 students who attend charter schools in the city have been determined on an individual school basis.