The rapid shift to a virtual world because of COVID-19 highlights vividly the disparities faced by families & children in Philadelphia and other low- income school districts with many children of color. Already severely underfunded due to a variety of causes including the fact that Pennsylvania doesn’t distribute all of its basic education funds through the fair funding formula, perpetuating ongoing and documented racial disparities in funding, we are now watching education grind to a halt for kids in our district when schools closed due to the virus.
At the same time, students in nearby suburban districts in our region continue to have access to regular instruction and the stabilizing support of teachers and classmates while Philadelphia students do not. We are particularly concerned with how the board is engaging our students with disabilities, English Language learners, those living in poverty, students of color, students in foster care, and students experiencing homelessness. But this isn’t just about the digital divide of laptops and Internet access.
At the same time as the kids are adrift without a way to connect to school, many families are also feeling that the District has forgotten them. This comes at a time when access to clear and supportive communications on a regular basis AND the opportunity to share their experiences, concerns, and questions as well as their ideas and suggestions for fixing the problems are lacking. Anxiety rises when families are not receiving the regular updates they need from the District and are not being given an opportunity to participate in the Board of Education Action meetings in a virtual but LIVE forum where questions can be asked and answered and ideas can be exchanged.
We appreciate some of the responses that the School District and the City have made in recent days such as finding solutions to continuing meal distribution, sending home lesson packets, hotlines in many languages and updating the web site. We are happy to hear that Chrome books are on their way, but more is needed. We need a commitment to robust, respectful, open and two-way communication between District and Board of Education Leadership and the stakeholders in the district – students, parents, teachers and other staff play a critical role in bridging some of the disparities we face when catastrophes like COVID-19 threaten to widen them. We’re counting on you to invest your considerable ability to be creative and innovative and find a way! Community groups like the ones I am part of are here to support these efforts.
POWER Interfaith, Our City Our Schools