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PPS theater students ask for changes on mask mandate ahead of board meeting

In this Oct. 7, 2021, file photo, Sarah Staffiere adjusts a face covering on her daughter, Natalie, before school.
Robert F. Bukaty
In this Oct. 7, 2021, file photo, Sarah Staffiere adjusts a face covering on her daughter, Natalie, before school.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools board will consider changes to its masking policy this week. Eleven of 35 speakers addressed masking during a Monday night public meeting, fewer than have previously spoken on the topic when the district has considered changes to the health and safety plan.

The board is set to consider making an adjustment for performing arts students during Wednesday’s voting meeting. But, according to an informal vote taken during a meeting to review Wednesday’s agenda, board members said that they won’t consider lifting masking requirements in schools. Some members said that they wanted more time before lifting the mandate.

Three Allderdice High School students urged the board to lift masking for students during theater performances. Senior Zain Adamo said masking mandates have been applied unequally across extracurriculars. Athletics haven’t required masks this school year.

“There’s no reason this policy should be unequally applied to the performing arts when it can be safely rescinded and so greatly enhance the experience of these performers who are talented and hard-working students,” he said.

Parent Teresa Madden-Harrold noted that this is an urgent concern for students as most musicals in the district begin next week. She added that students missed out on a year of live performances, though athletics have continued without having to wear a mask during competition.

“Why is that safe for athletes but not artists? This contrast in expectations and protocols between athletics and the arts is a source of cognitive dissonance for our students,” she said.

While board members have received feedback from constituents outside of the public hearing, only one speaker on Monday asked the board to maintain masking. Parent Katy Rank Lev asked that the mandate stay in place until everyone could be vaccinated especially as another COVID-19 variant is surging elsewhere.

She noted that CDC guidance says that some community settings such as schools might require additional levels of prevention.

“While we do indeed have low community spread in Allegheny County, have we put additional layers of prevention in place in our schools? If yes, what are these layers? It seems to me the CDC is pointing out that a school is different from say a store when it comes to mask recommendations,” she said.

Most regional districts have removed mask mandates since the CDC changed its guidance last month. Woodland Hills, one of the few to maintain masking, will remove its mandate effective next Monday according to Interim Superintendent Daniel Castagna.

Terri Rapp, a nurse practitioner at the district’s gifted center, said that the protocol used to determine if a student or staff member would quarantine is outdated and should be updated.

She also asked why Pittsburgh hasn’t changed its policy when cities with much larger enrollments have.

“Come fall we may need to change and adapt with this ever-changing virus. But lets give the students and staff a much needed mask break,” she said.

Parent Michele Nagle has children in three schools and said it’s time to end the mandate.

“These same kids go to restaurants, concerts, malls … without a mask. But not at school,” she said.

Nagle asked why other parents weren’t speaking out.

“I say hold this board accountable to their own policy on COVID which was supposed to be based on science. Advocate for your child’s education and mental health,” she said.

Start times

Ten speakers asked the district to reconsider the adjustments it made to school schedules to accommodate bus schedules. The district has long-faced a bus driver shortage but COVID-19 worsened the situation. Bus companies continue to struggle to hire drivers, so the district is making use of the drivers they do have who now run multiple routes.

Several Concord staff said Monday that they’re starting almost an hour and a half later than before the pandemic putting drop off and pick up during rush hour. They say because more parents have to drive their children, the area is even more congested and has become unsafe.

They said that students miss out on after school activities and parents have reported losing work hours to pick up their kids.

The board meets Wednesday at 6 p.m. The meeting can be streamed at