Pittsburgh Public Schools students might not be back in classrooms for at least the first nine weeks of the school year, although a final decision on the matter will not be determined for another two weeks.
During the board’s regular legislative meeting on Wednesday, board member Kevin Carter introduced a resolution to delay the district’s plan for a hybrid model, with both in-person and online learning, for the first quarter.
“While our state has taken some extreme efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis, 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 ahead of the meeting.
The board unanimously chose to table the resolution until a special legislative meeting Aug. 4 so that the public will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal during a public hearing July 29. Board members including Pam Harbin, Bill Gallagher and Terry Kennedy said the delay would give the district more time to plan.
“A delay of nine weeks gives us a lot more time to work out the details,” Kennedy said. She said starting remotely would give families assurances that “we can keep [children] safe.”
Carter’s resolution states that “while in-school instruction is a much more effective option than remote-learning for some of our students, we cannot in good faith open schools until our State and Federal Government get the virus under control.”
Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said he supports having the conversation, especially as COVID-19 cases increase in the region and across the country. Earlier in the meeting, Hamlet’s cabinet members presented a health and safety plan to be submitted to the state. Also during the meeting, the board approved giving Hamlet the authority to develop the health and safety plan.
Harbin said starting with remote learning is the only decision the district can make to keep students and staff safe. She said she wants the district to use the next few weeks to contact every family.
“There’s going to be a lot of families, no matter which way we do this … this is going to be a real hardship,” she said.
She noted that the pandemic has exacerbated inequities that existed in public education for students with disabilities, English Language Learners, students in foster care and students experiencing homelessness.
“My plea is we do a better job than we did with remote learning in March,” Harbin said. “We need to make sure we work with every family to make sure students with disabilities get all of the supports that they need. I’m convinced that we can do it.”
The resolution, if approved, would direct district administrators to transition all students to remote learning, make sure all students are equipped with technology, provide a contingency plan for special education students and develop a contingency plan for students whose parents are essential workers and “those not able to support their child’s remote learning journey.”
This week Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visgitis told WESA she does not think it is safe for students and teachers to return to schools.
“Teachers desperately want to go back to work with their kids," she said. "We all know that the expert should be working with their kids, but we know it's not safe."
Esposito-Visgitis said she checks the new case numbers daily and doesn’t see how students and staff could return in person without putting health and safety at risk.
“We need to get our numbers down so we can go back and be safe as quickly as possible, I hope,” she said.