By J. Brian Charles, The Trace, September 24, 2020
On a screen full of faces, the lone black square rang alarm bells for the Philadelphia teacher. The boy on the other side hadn’t turned on his camera and his microphone was muted. According to the rules for remote learning at John B. Stetson Charter School, the student was supposed to keep his laptop camera on during class. The teacher alerted Edwin Desamour, the dean at the middle school.
A few days later, during a meeting with the student and his mother, Desamour discovered that the 13-year-old student and his mother had been without a consistent home since the school reopened in late August. They’d been bouncing from space to space, staying with friends and family — and the student was keeping his camera off and staying quiet in class to avoid bothering his hosts. “The kid said, ‘I don’t want to make too much noise on the computer in someone else’s house,’” Desmamour explained. The boy had also figured that if other students couldn’t see he was relocating, they wouldn’t ask him about it. “He didn’t want kids to see that he was changing houses,” Desamour added.
The school had adopted uniforms so kids wouldn’t have to explain why they didn’t own the newest pair of jeans, but teachers hadn’t considered that students might feel judged for their backdrops during virtual classes. “Before, you got teased for clothes,” Desamour said, “and now it’s because a kid sees the background of your house.”