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City School District Says It Will Offer In-Person Learning Five Days A Week, Though Questions Remain

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Morrow Elementary School in Brighton Heights.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet told families Monday during a virtual webinar that it was the “ultimate goal” to have students and teachers back in buildings five days a week next month, but there are still many unanswered questions about how the district will do so.

District spokesperson Ebony Pugh later confirmed that the district will offer in-person learning five days a week, though it is still working to answer questions raised during the webinar about COVID-19 safety measures for the upcoming school year.

Pennsylvania will only distribute COVID relief funding to districts and charter schools that submit health and safety plans that outline how schools will safely reopen and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students. Pittsburgh Public’s 2021-22 plan can be found here.

The district has struggled to find enough bus drivers to staff the routes to return nearly 22,000 students in August. The district is already short on drivers for 10 routes for its summer BOOST program, which Pugh said Monday has left 39 students without transportation to schools. The district turned away 1,000 students who were initially told they had a spot in the program because of the driver shortage. Pugh said the district will hold webinars on transportation and technology before the school year begins.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month that fully vaccinated students and staff can safely return without masks. But interim chief operations officer Mike McNamara said Monday that students, teachers and staff will be required to wear disposable or cloth masks to maintain the full five days in-person.

“In some instances, social distancing isn’t going to be possible," he said. "So layering the masking as part of our strategy is going to help us keep everyone safe."

Accommodations will be made for students who cannot wear a mask, according to McNamara. He said parents or guardians should reach out to school principals with accommodation requests.

While staff will be required to keep six feet of physical distance, McNamara said students will stay three feet apart because some schools aren’t big enough to space students out the full six feet.

Schools will not offer remote or hybrid learning. Administrators said 4th through 12th grade students who wish to remain remote can transfer to the district’s existing online academy, though they would be enrolled for the entire year.

The district didn’t have an answer about the possibility of remote learning for students who are quarantined. Administrators said they would include an answer in forthcoming webinars, but those have not yet been scheduled.

Extracurricular activities including musical theater will return, as well as athletics, including elementary and middle school sports. Athletes and coaches will be required to wear masks indoors if they are on the sidelines and not engaging in the sport according to interscholastic athletic director Karen Arnold. Athletes and coaches will not be required to wear masks outdoors. Athletic events will be open for all spectators.

Members of the public can submit feedback on the plan to be read as a testimony during the district’s monthly public hearing July 26. The board will vote on the plan July 28 during its legislative session.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.