How Schools Are Meeting Student Needs During Two Weeks Of Closure

Mar 16, 2020

Nearly 1.7 million kids in Pennsylvania are out of school for at least the next two weeks as a preventative measure to ease the spread of coronavirus.

Gov. Tom Wolf made that call Friday afternoon. He said schools that don’t meet the state’s 180 instructional day requirement won’t be penalized, but it’s unclear if days will have to be made up. The state did say schools are not mandated to instruct students during the closure. Most schools plan to resume normal operation March 30.

Some districts like Pittsburgh Public have sent home optional work packets and are providing optional lessons online. That work won’t count for credit, according to the district, because not all homes have internet access.

Mark DiRocco, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said schools that have mandated lessons during this time have to make sure they can meet the requirements for students with Individualized Education Plans.

“Can they reach all of the students to make sure that every student has equal access to the educational program they’re putting online, or if they’re going to try to send something home through instructional packets and make sure there is some kind of communication practice in place to talk to their teachers?” he said.

DiRocco said two weeks is a major disruption for schools and the timing is bad.

Schools are heading into state standardized testing season and DiRocco said there are a lot of unanswered questions about rescheduling those tests.

“No one wants to go into that testing process with their kids being ill prepared for them or having this kind of disruption. I would be absolutely shocked if the US Department of Education or the state Department of Education didn’t make some kind of effort to adjust the testing for this year,” he said.  

Test scores are used to evaluate teachers and principals and designate the bottom five percent of schools which then get special help from the state.

DiRocco said he’s advising school leaders to be flexible because the situation is fluid and could change.

In addition to learning, schools provide a multitude of services especially for economically disadvantaged students. Meals and childcare are at the top of mind for many families in the region. Here’s how a few of the largest districts plan to meet those needs:

Pittsburgh Public Schools

The district began providing grab and go meals to students Monday at all 54 schools. According to the district website it typically serves more than 12,000 breakfast meals and 19,000 lunches.

Families are asked to pick up meals from the school closest to their home from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the first week. Usage will be evaluated and the district expects to designate distribution locations for the second week. Families are asked to avoid gathering at the schools after picking up food.

The district is also working with the Housing Authority to deliver food to the East Hills Community Center, Northview Heights Recreation Center and the Housing Authority location in Glen Hazel.

The district issued paper work packets by grade level at meal pickups and is also offering optional online work. The work won’t count for credit because not all students have internet access.

North Allegheny

While all school buildings are closed, there has been no clear communication from the county’s second largest school district as of Monday afternoon about meals or instruction.

Hempfield Area

The district does not plan to administer instruction virtually. The district has not indicated if it will offer meals.

Mt. Lebanon

Mt. Lebanon is providing daily meals for students in need at the high school from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Superintendent Timothy Steinhauer live-streamed a “Mindful Moment” Monday and will continue to do so every day at 9 a.m. with “up to the minute news and information followed by a mindful moment,” to help students and families stay connected, informed and calm.

Norwin

No specific message was available from the district about either virtual instruction or meals.

Canon-McMillan

No specific message was available from the district about either virtual instruction or meals.

Pine-Richland

Students were instructed to take home textbooks and print materials on Friday. Families will have the opportunity to pick up Chromebooks Tuesday to begin assignments. Students will be expected to complete assignments beginning Tuesday.

North Hills

Lunches will be available on school days during the closure for students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. They can be picked up at grab-and-go locations at West View Elementary

The district also released a schedule for make-up days in April to “preserve the end of the school year.”

Shaler

Grab-and-go breakfast and lunch will be available each weekday starting Tuesday from the Boys and Girls Club and a church in Etna

Baldwin-Whitehall

Superintendent Randal Lutz provided a video message to the community on the district website along with a Nepali translation of the message. The district announced it would close until April 14 before the Governor’s two week mandate.

The district does not plan to provide meals.

Woodland Hills

Grades K-5 teachers are posting 10 days’ worth of assignments for students to work on from home. Students are expected to complete a lesson a day

Grades 6-12 students are expected to complete a lesson a day on the school’s online platform

“If you need support with technology or internet access, please contact the school so that we can assist with ensuring access to assignments” Superintendent James Harris said in a letter distributed to families.

Grab-and-go breakfast and lunch available every day at three locations in Braddock, Swissvale and Turtle Creek.

Penn Hills

Penn Hills is providing modified instruction with mostly online access. Paper copies were sent home with students.

According to the district’s website, “families should not expect that PHSD will be serving meals on Monday.”

“We all realize this is a very difficult time that has created extra anxiety, especially for our families.  PHSD is committed to helping our extended school community navigate this unprecedented event.  To that point, select staff will be calling families throughout the closure to check on health (physical and mental) conditions,” a letter sent to families states.