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Public Responds Favorably To PPS Board Member Proposal To Start School Year Fully Online

Craig Mitchelldyer
In this Tuesday, March 17, 2020 photo Keith Bucks, works at home remotely during an online class assignment from his first grade class at Arco Iris Spanish Immersion School in Beaverton, Ore.

In a virtual hearing Wednesday evening, Pittsburgh Public Schools administrators heard public comment about a proposal to start the school year exclusively online instead of a hybrid model that would include some in-person instruction. The majority of statements were in favor of the remote-only model.

The change to the district’s “All In to Reopen Our Schools Plan” was proposed last week by board member Kevin Carter. It would have all classes be taught virtually for the first quarter, which could give the district more time to work out how to resume in-person classes. “We are nowhere near where I think we should be as a society to feel comfortable enough to put our kids in our school buildings,” Carter told WESA.

Nearly 140 statements from parents, teachers, students and contractors were read by PPS staffers in a virtual hearing that lasted nearly five hours. Those in favor of postponing in-person classes cited concerns about causing an outbreak of the coronavirus.

“Allegheny County has more positive COVID-19 cases now than when we closed in March,” read one statement from Taylor Allderdice High School teacher Raechel Palmer. “It is reckless to put students, teachers and staff at risk of spreading this virus, especially since asymptomatic transmission is possible.”

Several other teachers said starting online will allow more time to develop lesson plans that cater to online instruction. Stephanie Miller, a teacher at Pittsburgh South Hills 6-8, said that otherwise teachers may be forced to scramble for an online teaching strategy if an outbreak of the coronavirus occurs and schools are forced to close.

There were a handful of statements opposing the remote-only model.

Shawn Albright, Region Vice President of First Student, spoke about the financial toll school closures take on bus drivers and monitors. Albright noted some drivers will look for other work, which could lead to a shortage when schools resume in-person learning.

Others against the proposal were parents and teachers of students with disabilities. Deborah Garris, whose son attends Pittsburgh Conroy, said by considering the remote-only model, the school is taking away her ability to choose what is best for her son, who she said is non-verbal and requires full time assistance to use a computer.  

The board will vote on the proposal Friday.

Kiley covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.