Philly teachers told to stop online instruction because not all students have access; city cases skew younger

KYW Staff
March 18, 2020 - 3:43 pm

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UPDATED: 5:20 p.m. 

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia teachers have been told to stop online classes while schools are closed during the coronavirus crisis.

The School District of Philadelphia said it's a matter of equity.

Superintendent William Hite said teachers are still encouraged to reach out to their students and their families — online, of course — to provide resources or activities that can help them learn from home. 

But, Hite said, his chief of staff sent principals a letter telling them that teachers can't hold online instruction. 

“The one thing that we are prohibiting, however, is the requirement to log in, the requirement to take attendance and the requirement to distribute grades. If that's not available to all children, we cannot make it available for some,” he said Wednesday at a City Hall press briefing.

Online contact is allowed, but online teaching is out.

Related: The latest coronavirus coverage in Pennsylvania

The direction comes from state and federal education departments, stating that unless all children — including those with special needs or English learners — can be served, remote instruction cannot be offered. 

Hite said that guidance does not apply to charter schools, which are independently run.

Cases in Philadelphia skew younger

Spread of the new virus is rapidly accelerating. Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley confirmed 16 new cases in the city on Wednesday — almost double the amount from the day before.

However, most of the cases are still reported to be mild. Just five of the total 34 patients have been hospitalized. 

Farley said more than half of the patients are between the ages of 19 and 39.

“It may be that infection rates are higher in younger people because they're more likely to come in contact with other people, but, once infected, you're more likely to get ill if you're older,” he explained.

Farley said the cases are citywide and range across demographics.

“There are some people who are wondering if some races are not going to get this — this virus doesn't discriminate,” he emphasized.

City officials reinforced Wednesday that essential services — police department, fire department, trash collection, health centers, utilities — will continue even while officials encourage non-essential workers to stay home.

The guidance continues to be to stay away from other people as much as possible, and, if you have the symptoms, to contact your regular provider about getting tested

Six test sites set up by hospitals in the region conducted 700 tests on their first day, and a drive-thru site is in the process of being set up in South Philadelphia

“We are quarantining and identifying people as quickly as possible, but the virus is moving faster than we can,” Farley admitted. “Everyone needs to take seriously the social distancing recommendations we've made so far,” which includes the continued closure of non-essential businesses

There will be no utility shut-offs through April, and commerce officials are still working on the support package for small businesses.

And bigger players are hurting too. The Pennsylvania Convention Center has had seven cancellations — all the big meetings through April.

The city also announced an outlet for those who want to volunteer — the Medical Reserve Corps. They're looking for doctors, nurses or people who just can track information. For more information, click here

KYW Newsradio's Mike DeNardo and Pat Loeb contributed to this report.