Thursday, April 2, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for April 2: Coronavirus shutdown reveals inequity of student internet access across Pa.

Started in November 2010, daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 4050 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, superintendents, school solicitors, principals, charter school leaders, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for April 2, 2020

Political Cartoon: Homeschooling President Trump on coronavirus
Inquirer by Signe Wilkinson April 2, 2020

“The district has mulled several stopgap measures, including using buses as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots that would pull up to students’ houses and allow them to download their work. The Connellsville Area School District southeast of Pittsburgh asked local businesses to host free Wi-Fi hotspots for this purpose. District residents can now drive up to Indian Creek Baptist Church, Mountain Pines Campground, or even Lynn’s Dairy Queen, where students can download assignments and dig into a Blizzard while riding out the coronavirus storm.”
WHYY By Avi Wolfman-Arent April 1, 2020
When the coronavirus shutdown hit Pennsylvania public schools, Cathy Keegan felt ready.
As superintendent of the Milton Area School District in central Pennsylvania, she’d already bought enough laptops and tablets so that each of her roughly 2,000 students had a personal device. They seemed well positioned for the statewide pivot to virtual learning. “We thought, ‘Wow, this is great. We at least are ready with devices and a hybrid learning model and students being familiar with online learning tools,’” said Keegan. Then her district hit the internet-access wall. Milton realized that a combined 240 students and teachers had no internet connections at home. Officials decided to buy hotspot devices for each of those households, but that plan presented its own problems. Wireless providers used to offer hotspot hardware for free, Keegan said — as long as the district committed to a year of internet service for each new device. But with the coronavirus outbreak fueling demand for at-home internet access, prices skyrocketed and supply evaporated. “As we called vendors to purchase hotspots, if we even blinked and a couple of minutes went by, those hotspots were sold and gone,” Keegan said. Wireless hotspots, it turns out, have quickly become the hand sanitizer of the technological world. Congressional Democrats sought government aid for school districts purchasing the devices, but the final relief bill out of D.C. didn’t include a subsidy for hotspots.

Gov. Wolf said Pa. could allow students to move to next grade based on work before schools were closed
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Updated Apr 01, 2020; Posted Apr 01, 2020
Gov. Tom Wolf said the state Department of Education is considering allowing students to be promoted to the next grade or graduate provided they achieved passing grades prior to the March 16 school closure due to the coronavirus.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is considering promoting K-12 students to the next grade or graduating them if they had passing grades before public schools were closed due to the coronavirus. “I think the Department of Education is looking at that and other things," Wolf said during the news conference on the daily COVID-19 report for Pennsylvania. School districts around the state are struggling to get their educational programs back on track as they deal with ensuring students have access to lesson or the technology being used to deliver instruction. Some are resorting to sending out packets of enrichment activities, which are not being counted toward their grade. The state Department of Education on Tuesday rolled out an array of resources to help schools get back to the business of educating students, which Wolf said is the department’s major focus right now.

Blogger comment: PA tax reform proponents may take note here of the potential danger of overreliance on sales and income taxes for funding schools.

“Revenues from sales and income taxes — which Pennsylvania counts on for roughly three-quarters of general fund revenues — dipped in March but will likely plunge in the coming months, as some businesses shutter permanently and thousands of workers are laid off. Already, Pennsylvanians are filing for unemployment in record numbers.”
Here’s the first look at how the coronavirus is gutting Pa. state finances, and it’s not pretty
Inquirer by Charlotte Keith, Updated: April 1, 2020- 11:06 AM
Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/Patriot-News. Sign up for our free weekly newsletter.
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania tax revenues fell 6% short of official estimates in March, according to figures released Wednesday by the Department of Revenue, the first glimpse at the fiscal challenge the state will face in the coming months. The latest numbers do not reflect the full extent of the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak because of a lag in when some taxes are collected, and because Gov. Tom Wolf first began ordering businesses to close about halfway through the month. Even so, the $295 million shortfall is enough to completely wipe out a financial cushion accumulated after months of higher-than-expected revenues. “State revenues are beginning to fall a little, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg,” state Revenue Secretary C. Daniel Hassell said Wednesday. Pennsylvania’s tax revenues for the current fiscal year are now 0.2% lower than estimated. “Clearly we’re not going to hit the revenue numbers that were in the governor’s budget, and there are going to be major adjustments that have to be made," Hassell said. Almost every source of tax revenue that Pennsylvania relies on will be affected by the outbreak and the efforts to contain it. On March 19, Wolf ordered all but “life-sustaining” businesses to close their physical operations, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Pa. tax revenues were down in March, as officials brace for bigger future hit from COVID-19
PA Capital Star By  Stephen Caruso April 1, 2020
This story was updated at 5:12 pm with comment from Rep. Matt Bradford.
In the first sign of expected financial strains from COVID-19, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue announced that March tax revenues were 6.2 percent less than projected. The department reported $4.4 billion in revenue, about $294.6 million less than anticipated. The shortfall, Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell said in a statement, was only partially related to the coronavirus pandemic. “We expect the pandemic will have a greater impact on revenues in the coming months,” Hassell said. Matt Knittel, head of the Independent Fiscal Office — which offers nonpartisan analysis of state policy — said that some of the dip was expected, due to shifts in tax payments. Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic mediation efforts, including a March 19 order to shut down thousands of businesses, did not go into full effect until more than half way through the month.
That order

Guest Opinion: What K-12 education needs during the pandemic
GoErie Opinion by By Dan O’Brien Posted Mar 30, 2020 at 5:30 AM
Dan O’Brien is the Bucks County Coordinator of Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), which advocates quality health care, child care, public education and family stability. O’Brien lives in Bristol Township.
We’re in an unprecedented time that will require unprecedented action to ensure the health and well-being of all, including children, is at the forefront of any action taken by our government. To limit the effect the coronavirus pandemic will have on Americans, we have already seen measures implemented to create social distancing, including the closing of schools. There’s a legitimate chance that all Pennsylvania schools will be closed for the remainder of term. If enacted, this measure needs to be limited to each school’s physical location. The Pennsylvania Constitution requires the state to provide every child an education regardless of outside factors, stating: “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.”
The educational clause clearly states that the General Assembly is required to ensure the “needs of the Commonwealth” are met when it comes to public education. During this difficult time, we must still meet our constitutional obligations. That will require bold and innovative action from our state lawmakers.

“There is an obvious problem. One cannot practice welding, frame a house, or take a patient’s blood pressure over the internet. While CTE students do a great deal of book work (more, perhaps, than many folks assume), there is a hands-on element that is critical to their education.”
As Schools Tackle Coronavirus Pause, Don’t Forget Career And Technical Education Students.
Forbes by Peter Greene Senior Contributor Apr 1, 2020,04:21pm EDT
At this juncture, nearly all schools in this country have been shut down, forcing teachers, families, and students to grapple with some form of crisis schooling. The need for teachers to teach and students to learn at a distance has sparked discussion of many issues. How do schools keep contact with students who have little or no access to the internet? How do teachers construct useful materials while holding in place inside their own homes? How do parents adapt to this involuntary version of home schooling? Some of the biggest discussions, from the local level all the way up to the federal department of education, have centered on the challenge of providing crisis schooling for students with special needs. But there is one other group of students who face unique concerns, and there has been far less discussion about how the coronaviral hiatus will affect them—career and technical education students. My former district is part of consortium that has run a very good CTE school for many decades, training students in fields including welding, building construction, auto body repair, home health services, and operating heavy equipment. For most of my career, these students passed through my classroom, and I cannot overstate how much they have benefited from these excellent programs.

Teaching without schools: Districts face challenges to complete school year
Pennsylvania must ensure that students don’t fall behind educationally through no fault of their own
THE EDITORIAL BOARD Pittsburgh Post-Gazette APR 2, 2020 6:00 AM
School administrators and teachers will be scrambling in the next few weeks to come up with ways to resume the education of the state’s nearly 1.7 million school-age students. The only certainty at this point is that one way or another, the school year will end June 30. And while many districts are planning to use their “instructional days” plans to provide instruction and coursework remotely, that will be a problem for rural districts where high-speed internet access may be limited or nonexistent. Likewise, poorer districts, whose students may not have computers and internet access, will be hard-pressed to conduct remote learning. The state Department of Education needs to be ready to step in with assistance — and funding — quickly if school districts are expected to meet the challenge of providing the necessary education in a shortened school year.

Upper Darby goes digital as schools close indefinitely
Delco Times by Alex Rose April 2, 2020
The Upper Darby School District’s digital learning platform came online this week through the social networking service Schoology, though it was not without some fits and starts. Schools Superintendent Dr. Daniel P. McGarry reported the system was “a little overwhelmed” Monday as Upper Darby and districts across the world strained its resources, but it was back up and running as of Tuesday. “Communication is always going to be the key,” said McGarry. “We can’t control the network from home to home and obviously we can’t control the server where this information is stored, but we can control how we communicate and our expectations of our staff and kids. The message I want to communicate is: Be patient, we’re going to work through this together.” Upper Darby’s online instruction – which is aimed at reaching 12,500 to 13,000 students – booted up just in time for Gov. Tom Wolf to announce that schools would remain closed indefinitely. McGarry said the district had planned to return to its brick-and-mortar classrooms April 10, after spring break, but will now continue to use online learning tools until the end of the month and await further instruction from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Pa. school districts mounting distance learning plans
Herald Mail Media By Joyce F. Nowell April 1, 2020
With the closure of Pennsylvania schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic now indefinite, districts are ramping up programs to provide continuity of education. Herald-Mail Media asked officials from the four largest school districts in Franklin County to discuss their current plans. The following are responses from Superintendent Tod Kline of the Waynesboro Area School District, where the enrollment is 4,385 students.

Expanded list of where to get free meals in Philadelphia
Anyone in need, not just students, can get free nutritious food.
the Notebook April 1 — 3:15 pm, 2020
The city and the School District are expanding the number of sites where free meals are available. As the shutdown as lengthened, the demand for meals has grown. Mayor Kenney said at the daily COVID-19 briefing that the city has distributed 220,000 meals in one week. Here is a link to the city’s website, which has a list and a map of the food distribution sites.

Pittsburgh Public Schools open additional meal sites
Pittsburgh Public Schools on Wednesday announced two additional locations where students can pick up meals while schools remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The locations are at 1710 Belleau Drive, Allegheny Dwellings, Fineview; and 237 37th St., Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville.  The school district opened 30 other grab and go meal distribution sites in March.  

“I could continue to go on and on. These bonds that we have and will forge are what gives me and so many of my peers hope in this supposedly hopeless time. Students may not tell you this directly, but your kind emails bring us comfort. I can not even begin to count the number of social media posts I have seen of students overjoyed by just a simple hello from their favorite teacher. Please, in this time of trial, keep those bonds alive. No matter your role, thank you for your tireless work over these last two weeks preparing, innovating, and keeping Dallastown strong. Our appreciation for all of you can not be overstated. Stay safe and stay kind.”
Dallastown student: Thank you to educators and staffers for tireless work during crisis
Dylan J. Rexroth Published 10:39 a.m. ET April 1, 2020
Editor's note, Dallastown Area School District spokeswoman Nicole Montgomery shared this letter send by Student Council President Dylan J. Rexroth:
All, I’m sending this email on behalf of all of us students in Dallastown. 
A constant theme of this moment in history has been that this is an unprecedented time that requires an unprecedented response. The past 12 years of my Dallastown education have given me great confidence in this district’s ability to remain strong in the face of adversity. The events of the past 12 hours have only served to strengthen my faith in our ability to overcome.  I had to drop something off today for the guidance office. While walking inside to the drop box, I saw lunch workers providing bagged meals for families in cars. While they waited for their meal, I saw the workers and the families talking, laughing, just being normal people for a change. In the midst of all of this, I was reminded of what makes me proud to be a Wildcat, but what we so often forget in the mundane — our relationships with one another. It’s the relationship between our Chartwells staff and the students that make every child feel special by giving a smile and telling them to have a good day with each meal. It’s the relationship between administrators and families that provide a sense of calm amid chaos. It’s the relationship between our security and grounds staff and all in the district who provide us with a safe, clean, school to come to each day. It’s the relationship between coaches and advisors and those they mentor that push us to become the best we can be. It’s the relationship between guidance counselors and their students that give us someone to turn to when in need of advice. It's the relationship between secretaries and those called to the office that makes us feel welcomed wherever we go. It’s the relationship between teachers and students that gives us the greatest gift in the world, a love of learning. 

Paul Muschick: What are they waiting for? All Pennsylvania schools should start online classes
The longer the coronavirus crisis drags on, the harder it is to believe that students will return to school this semester. So it’s time for districts to ramp up their online instruction. Everything won’t go smoothly. Not every student will be able to participate. But those who can be taught deserve to be taught. Teachers are being paid, so they should be teaching, even if they can’t reach all of their pupils or reach them as effectively. The idea of teaching for only some students — those who can afford high-speed internet and laptops or iPads, and who don’t have special needs or speak other languages — is contrary to how school districts legally must operate. That may mean a limited audience in districts such as Allentown, where about three-quarters of the 17,000 students live in poverty, about 3,000 are in special education and about 17% don’t speak English as their first language. But Pennsylvania and the nation have never been in a situation such as this before. Exceptions must be made in education just like they are being made elsewhere, such as with licensing requirements being eased to increase the number of health care workers. Districts should do all they can to reach all students. But if they can’t, they should proceed, and state lawmakers should back them. Tuesday, Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr. said he will introduce legislation to prevent school districts from being sued over operational changes they make during the coronavirus crisis, including remote learning.

FBI issues warning about ‘hijacking’ of online classes by intruders after schools report serious disruptions
Inquirer by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, Updated: March 31, 2020- 3:59 PM
The FBI just issued a warning to the public about the "hijacking" of online classrooms and teleconferences after it received reports of disturbances by people shouting racist and threatening language and displaying hate messages. Concerns about online security have been rising as most of the nation has moved to online education as school buildings have closed to try to stem the spread of a novel coronavirus that has stopped public life around the world. Schools have rushed to put together online lessons and programs, sometimes without strict security filters. The FBI said in its new warning that it has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic images and other things, while two schools in Massachusetts reported intruders signing into online classes. In one instance, a high school reported that an unidentified person dialed into a class being held on the Zoom software and broke into a lesson by yelling a profanity and shouting the teacher's home address. At another school, an online class with disrupted by someone who was visibly displaying tattoos of swastikas.

Commentary: Crisis no justification for thwarting democratic practice
The Board of Education gave Superintendent Hite emergency powers to deal with the crisis. There were better ways to respond, says activist.
The notebook Commentary by Lisa Haver April 1 — 7:59 am, 2020
Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.
As the city of New Orleans struggled to restore itself to some semblance of normal life after Hurricane Katrina, the agents of school privatization moved in. Even before many teachers and students could return to their homes, their neighborhood schools had been converted to charter schools, until only a handful of public schools were left. During that time of upheaval, when most school board meetings were cancelled, public schools became low-hanging fruit for charter investors. On a smaller scale, but in the same vein, the Board of Education, at its March action meeting, approved an item ceding many of its own powers to Superintendent William Hite, allowing decisions on expenditures and contracts to be made without public oversight and opening the door to potential violations of the PA Sunshine Act. Item 55, posted just hours before the meeting began, cites the Covid-19 crisis as justification. If there were any compelling reason for this transfer of power from a nine-person representative body to one administrator, the board would have given one during the meeting or in the body of the item itself. But the board did not. Because it was posted at the last minute, and the public’s ability to process it and comment on it was severely limited due to the logistics of the meeting, the board had an obligation to give sound reasons for its passage.

Ellis Marsalis, New Orleans jazz piano legend hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms, dies BY DOUG MACCASH | STAFF WRITER PUBLISHED APR 1, 2020 AT 8:31 PM | UPDATED APR 1, 2020 AT 8:51 PM
Ellis Marsalis Jr., the jazz pianist, teacher and patriarch of one of New Orleans’ great musical families has died.  The 85-year-old jazz piano legend was hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19. He had been tested for coronavirus and results were pending. Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a statement Wednesday night on his passing. "Ellis Marsalis was a legend," she said. "He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz. The love and the prayers of all of our people go out to his family, and to all of those whose lives he touched. He was a teacher, a father, and an icon ... This loss cuts us deeply."

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day: Venus and the Pleiades in April
Digital Illustration Credit & CopyrightFred Espenak (Bifrost Astronomical Observatory)
Explanation: Venus is currently the brilliant evening star. Shared around world, in tonight's sky Venus will begin to wander across the face of the lovely Pleiades star cluster. This digital sky map illustrates the path of the inner planet as the beautiful conjunction evolves, showing its position on the sky over the next few days. The field of view shown is appropriate for binocular equipped skygazers but the star cluster and planet are easily seen with the naked-eye. As viewed from our fair planet, Venus passed in front of the stars of the Seven Sisters 8 years ago, and will again 8 years hence. In fact, orbiting the Sun 13 Venus years are almost equal to 8 years on planet Earth. So we can expect our sister planet to visit nearly the same place in our sky every 8 years.

PSBA FAQ Sheet Regarding Closure of School Due to Coronavirus
PSBA has compiled answers to your most pressing questions surrounding school closures due to the #coronavirus outbreak. View this resource here: PSBA establishes channel to answer COVID-19 questions
In light of statewide school closings and as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve, PSBA is here to provide support to members and answer questions regarding how schools will operate, meet instructional requirements and provide services both now and in the future. Please send your questions to with your name, district and contact information. A member of PSBA staff will respond directly or will funnel your inquires to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. PSBA will act as your voice and ensure you receive the answers and information you need to make decisions at this crucial time.

PSBA: Coronavirus Preparedness Guidance
In the last few weeks, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, has become a topic of concern nationwide. Although the virus is not widespread in Pennsylvania at this time, that status could change. Being proactive is key to prevention and mitigation. Below, you will find a list of resources on all aspects of preparedness, including guidance on communication planning, policy, emergency management and disease control. Use these resources to help you make decisions regarding the safety and health of those in your school district.

All school leaders are invited to attend Advocacy Day at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units (PAIU) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) are partnering together to strengthen our advocacy impact. The day will center around meetings with legislators to discuss critical issues affecting public education. Click here for more information or register at School directors can register online now by logging in to myPSBA. If you need assistance logging in and registering contact Alysha Newingham, Member Data System Administrator at

PSBA Board Presidents Panel April 27, 28 and 29; Multiple Locations
Offered at 10 locations across the state, this annual event supports current and aspiring school board leaders through roundtable conversations with colleagues as well as a facilitated panel of experienced regional and statewide board presidents and superintendents. Board Presidents Panel is designed to equip new and veteran board presidents and vice presidents as well as superintendents and other school directors who may pursue a leadership position in the future.

PARSS Annual Conference April 29 – May 1, 2020 in State College
The 2020 PARSS Conference is April 29 through May 1, 2020, at Wyndham Garden Hotel at Mountain View Country Club in State College. Please register as a member or a vendor by accessing the links below.

Register today for the 2020 PASA/PA Principals Association PA Educational Leadership Summit, August 2-4, at the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square 
(hosted by the PA Principals Association and the PA Association of School Administrators). Participants can earn up to 80 PIL hours (40 hours for the Summit and - for an additional cost of $50 - 40 hours for EdCamp) for attending the conference and completing program requirements. Register early to reserve your seat! The deadline to take advantage of the Early Bird Discount is April 24, 2020.   
Click here to register today!

Network for Public Education 2020 Conference in Philly Rescheduled to November 21-22
NPE Website March 10, 2020 7:10 pm
We so wanted to see you in March, but we need to wait until November!
Our conference will now take place on November 21 and 22 at the same location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Please read the important information below.
Registration: We will be rolling over our registration information, so there is no reason to register again. You will be automatically registered for the November dates. If you cannot attend in November, we ask that you consider donating your registration to absorb some of the costs associated with rescheduling the conference. If you feel you cannot make such a donation, please contact:

Any comments contained herein are my comments, alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or organization that I may be affiliated with.