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Philadelphia students must log on to be counted, Hite says

William Hite speaking into a microphone.
Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite.
Emma Lee/WHYY

Philadelphia school officials are turning their attention to fighting student absenteeism and safe buildings ahead of a planned November return to in-person classes.

This semester, teachers will mark remote students present or absent at every class period, similar to when school buildings were open. A student who attends first period, however, will be counted as having attended school that day, schools Superintendent William Hite said at a Thursday morning press briefing.

“In the spring, children could text, they could call, or leave an email. They could log in or see their teacher — any participation was counted as present,” Hite said. “Now students must log in using the student portal and log in to the classes and if they have multiple classes, they have to log in to each class.”

On the first day of virtual school in Philadelphia, about 82% of the school district’s students logged on — a significant improvement over the spring, when the daily average hovered around 60% after schools were suddenly forced to go online. Current attendance stands at 92% at the high school level and 90% everywhere else, Hite. said.

Keeping a close eye on attendance is one way to help keep students on track, as many parents and educators worry about learning loss during months away from the classroom. To evaluate performance, Hite said district students will take an assessment known as AIMSweb.

Also at Thursday’s briefing, Hite said he’s confident Philadelphia’s school buildings will be safe and ready for students to return by the time campuses are slated to reopen on Nov. 17.

Hite, speaking Thursday at a press conference alongside Chief Operating Officer Reggie McNeil, said the district has enhanced cleaning protocols and is surveying school buildings to ensure teachers and principals’ safety concerns are addressed.

McNeil noted: “We do quality checks for what our building engineers, custodial assistants, and general cleaners are doing. We have a ventilation program that we started and will be able to assess what the occupancy can be in each of our facilities.”

Even with safety measures in place, coronavirus cases are likely to crop up, district leaders warned. Earlier this week, a student access center in West Oak Lane, which is not run by the school district, was forced to shut its doors after a participant tested positive for the coronavirus. Access centers provide care to K-6 students during the remote school day.

“We should expect that this is likely to happen,” Hite said. “We will continue to be guided by the Philadelphia Department of Health. Reports will go to them and they will make the determination: Do we close down a class or do we close down a room or an area of a building or do we close down the whole school or close down the whole district? They would be making those determinations based on case counts.”

While school remains remote for now, the district has opened a third technology support center at South Philadelphia High School. The others are located at MLK High School in West Oak Lane and at FitzPatrick Annex in the Northeast.

“These technology support centers will remain open for students and families and staff who need to pick up devices or have the district issue devoice repair,” the superintendent said.

Those seeking tech support can call (215) 400-4444. Additional information on the technology support services can be found at philasd.org. Students in need of internet access can dial 2-1-1 and press 1.

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