Pittsburgh Public Schools' nearly 23,000 students will not return to classrooms for the first nine weeks of the year.
The board unanimously passed a resolution Friday to postpone an in-person return until at least the end of October. Board member Kevin Carter, who represents North Side neighborhoods, proposed the move last week. He told board members Friday there is not a good solution, and that he is aware of the challenges that come with remote learning.
But, as local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase, he said it is too risky to return to schools.
“Are you willing to gamble the lives of the students and staff? Because that’s what this vote means today,” he said.
More details on remote learning for the first nine weeks are expected to be discussed at the board’s Tuesday, Aug. 4 meeting, which can be streamed here. The board also unanimously approved a health and safety plan that must be sumbitted to the state. The plan outlines how the precautions the district would take if it were to reopen schools.
District administrators had previously suggested using a hybrid model of both in-person and online instruction with the option of fully online learning. That position was largely influenced by the district’s “All-In to Reopen Our Schools Plan” process that brought together parents, teachers, students and community advocates to consider how schools could safely reopen. The committees submitted 400 recommendations to the administration.
Board members, including Pam Harbin, said Friday that the work was not done in vain. She said it will be used if the district decides it is safe for students to return in person. She stressed that the district must do better in attempting to reach all families with clear communication. She also wants better special education plans for students with disabilities.
Nearly 140 people spoke in front of the board this week ahead of the vote. A majority of statements favored the remote-only option, though many emphasized that students with disabilities were adversely impacted by the school closures.
Board member Sala Udin also noted that remote learning exacerbates existing issues in education including the achievement gap between Black and white students. He said that Black children were “hanging on by their fingernails” as that gap widens.
“Parents who are advocating to reopen schools because they have to go to work to put food on the table; I want you to know we hear you,” Udin said.
He went on to say that he could not in good conscience vote to reopen schools in a few weeks and that students could potentially be learning from home into 2021.
Udin on Thursday said that the district assures him that it will have enough computers for students in the fall. But Udin said that is not good enough.
City Controller Michael Lamb has auditing jurisdiction over the district. Udin has asked him to audit the quantity and location of computers and tablets the district has purchased for remote learning.
Lamb did not responded to a request for comment. Just before the board meeting started on Friday, the district issued a press release stating that an “international supply chain issue and a community internet void” led to a backorder of 18,719 computer and electronic devices. The release states that the district expects those devices to be delivered by Oct. 20, 2020.
The board has authorized the district to purchase thousands of devices since it closed buildings in March per state order to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“I’ve been asking questions like ‘have they arrived?’ and I get questions like ‘well not completely’," Udin said on Thursday. "Well how many have arrived and how many are due to arrive? ‘Well we expect they will all be here in time for school.”
In a letter to Lamb, Udin requested an audit of the inventory of laptops, Chromebooks and tablets purchased since Jan. 1, 2020.
“The audit should also determine the number of such devices previously owned and actually received by the district and the details of how they were distributed and how many were returned to the district," Udin said in the letter. "In addition, please include an audit of the number of students/families in need of high-speed internet access. How many hotspots were purchased or acquired?”