William Hite

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite speaks during a news conference Wednesday, March 18, 2020, at City Hall. — Tribune Photo/Abdul R. Sulayman

The third marking period of the school year, which has already ended, could be the end of the school year, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said Tuesday.

“I do envision ending this school year with an asterisk. We just concluded the third marking period. Two states have already indicated that their school years, for all intents and purposes will end based on the third marking period,” Hite said. “I could envision something like that happening here in Pennsylvania if this goes much longer.”

Hite also announced a plan to get internet service and Chromebook laptops to students in the 130,000-student school district to resume graded instruction as soon as possible, targeting early April as the time when students will have laptops.

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Hite said that district administrators are still exploring the the possibility of having graduation ceremonies and maybe even proms. However, under the current restrictions — the city and the four surrounding counties are under a stay-at-home order from the governor, and gatherings of groups of more than 10 are currently not permitted — the superintendent admitted that it would be difficult to conduct any events with large groups.

“We would like to think that at some point we will have graduation activities or have activities available to seniors to experience a prom if this doesn’t go on for a much longer period,” Hite said. “But if it does, we have to come up with other ways to think about this. Many of the universities have had to postpone things like graduations and we would look to that type of model just so they could experience the graduation. We would want them to experience that. We don’t know what that looks like at this time.”

All schools in Philadelphia were closed on March 13 in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and originally scheduled to reopen on March 27. However, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continued to climb, Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Monday that all schools across the state would remain closed at least until April 6. State officials currently plan to have staff return on April 7 and students return on April 9.

“We are actually planning for longer periods of time here in the School District of Philadelphia. If we can come back earlier, we will,” Hite said. “If not, we will have a plan that go well beyond April 6 if necessary.”

Hite said district administrators are currently in the process of determining how many laptops it needs to buy so every student who needs one can have access to one, and how much those laptops would cost. The school district can cover the cost of some of the laptops, but will look to its partners in the business community to help buy more.

District administrators also are discussing securing internet hotspots for students who do not have internet access at home. Only 41% of students in grades 3 through 8 and only 51% of students in grades 9 through 12 had internet access, according to a survey of 83,000 students the district conducted last spring. The survey included children in both district and charter schools.

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