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Education

Pittsburgh Public Schools students and staff soon won't be required to wear masks

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Students and staff in the city school district won’t be mandated to wear masks when they go to school next week, with a few exceptions.

In an 8-0 vote (with Kevin Carter absent), the board of directors approved updates to its health and safety plan that more closely reflect current federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In February, the CDC updated how it tracks COVID-19 levels in communities based on transmission, hospitalizations and hospital bed availability. Most districts in the region, except for a few such as Pittsburgh Public and Woodland Hills, moved to optional masking following the CDC's update,

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

Under current indicators, Allegheny County is at a low level of COVID-19, so the CDC recommends that schools make masks optional for all students and employees while inside buildings.

The district’s plan requires that students and staff wear masks inside buildings if the community level is medium or high, with few exceptions.

The CDC guidance calls for masks to be optional if the community level is medium. That was altered in the PPS plan after a resolution from board member Jamie Piotrowski said that returning to masking at the medium level was a “good compromise” based on community feedback. Board members Gene Walker, Bill Gallagher and Sylvia Wilson voted against the amendment.

District physician Martin Gregorio said that the administration wanted to follow CDC guidance rather than a more conservative approach as proposed by Piotrowski because the levels are backed by scientific metrics.

The district had initially intended to move to optional masking on Thursday. But board member Pam Harbin voiced concern that the shift would be too fast for families, especially those students who can’t attend school safely if not all are wearing masks. Assistant superintendent Rodney Neccai said that he agreed that the administration would consult with schools first and make masks optional next week.

Pittsburgh Public Schools also updated its decision tree, which schools use if a student or employee experiences symptoms consistent with COVID-19. The tree includes two paths — one for people with one or more symptoms regardless of vaccination status and another for people who have had close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

The decision tree requires students or employees to wear a mask for five days when returning to school after quarantine or isolation.

Harbin asked how masking would be enforced for those returning from isolation or quarantine, and Neccai said that each school’s administration would be responsible.