PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The 23,000 students in Pittsburgh Public Schools are all doing remote learning for the first time this week, but about half of them don’t have access to a computer at home.

Without a classroom, the computer is now the connection between student and teacher as kids do school at home.

Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet says that is their biggest challenge. “The problem was, all of our students did not have devices or access, that was the biggest issue. And so that’s where we have come up with the concept of the instructional packets.“

Dr. Hamlet says those packets are being distributed at community sites every two weeks.

Next week, the district will give out computers to high schoolers who don’t have them, then middle and elementary school students with what is left.

They’re working to get enough for every student but are still far short.

“That is our mission. That is our quest right now — to make sure that we get one-to-one access and technology to all of our students,” he says.

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Dr. Hamlet says it’s possible that at-home learning could continue into the fall, and he doesn’t want the digital divide to grow wider.

“This really exacerbates and brings (the digital divide) to the forefront. We knew it was an issue. Now, you see it really is an issue. And providing access to computers to marginalized students is a game changer for them,” he says.

As for criticism that Pittsburgh Public Schools weren’t prepared and started weeks after surrounding schools, Dr. Hamlet says you can’t compare Pittsburgh with suburban districts.

“I don’t think right now there was a district or a health department or a state that was ready for this,” he says.

“We have high poverty. We have students that are marginalized. You have students that are homeless, and a lot of issues here, and I’m saying this not as an excuse but to understand the context.”

Dr. Hamlet says in addition to focusing on learning, they are serving the whole child, including providing meals to students.

This week, they are working to get computers to all of the guidance counselors, nurses and other support staff so they can connect with students too.

Kristine Sorensen