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A+ Schools: PPS Students Should Expect Masks, Online-Learning Options

Seth Perlman
Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera says he expects students to return to their classrooms in the fall, but it’s up to each district’s school board to approve a reopening plan.";s:


On today's program: As families get ready for school to begin this fall, A+ Schools is releasing classroom and operations suggestions for Pittsburgh Public Schools during the pandemic; the University of Pittsburgh plans to use more solar power; and the invasive spotted lanternfly descends on southwestern PA. 

“I think there will be some form of school,” says A+ Schools executive director
(00:00 — 7:51)

Pennsylvania is reopening, which means parents are going back to work and hoping to send kids back to school in the fall. Pedro Rivera, Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education, says he expects students to return to their classrooms at the end of the summer, and education leaders are trying to determine how to safely reopen schools that have been shut down for five and a half months. Each district’s school board must approve their own reopening plan.

A+ Schools, an advocacy group that focuses on equity in Pittsburgh Public Schools, has compiled some best practices for the district to consider.

Executive Director James Fogarty, tells The Confluence that the group’s recommendations are “more than crisis management,” suggesting broader engagement with families and the community outside of COVID-related communication.

“This is where us as a community group want to connect schools to other community resources, so whether that’s food, additional assistance for rent or other things that the school system—once they know these things through teachers—can then share that back out with community partners who can help address those needs,” he says.  

The school board has appointed 16 committees to study what should be included in a reopening plan.

Classrooms will look different this fall, Fogarty says, and parents should expect students to wear masks at school.

“I don’t think we need to be policing it in a heavy-handed way, but I think there needs to be a way for every family to get comfortable with the idea that their child will be wearing a mask all day if they’re going to school,” says Fogarty.

He says he also expects the district will provide a remote learning option. “I think there will be some form of school. I think there will also be some form of opt-out for families to take online school.”

The recommendations by the district’s committees are expected by the end of July.

Pitt to use solar power on Oakland campus
(7:53 — 12:51)

Pennsylvania generates the third-highest amount of electricity in the nation, but less than 1 percent comes from solar, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The University of Pittsburgh says it plans to use solar power in the near future.


The school says it will buy all of the electricity produced at a solar facility to be built by the company Lendlease on the border of Allegheny and Beaver counties, and use it to power part of its campus in Oakland. Pitt is trying to meet sustainability goals and listen to students who are demanding a greener campus.


“It’s really great to see students both undergraduates and graduates engaged in carbon discussions, knowing that climate change is really that looming emergency that will be there as we emerge from COVID,” says  Aurora Sharrard, the University’s Director of Sustainability.


The move towards solar power is part of an overall sustainability plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030. She says that when the university reopens after the pandemic, its operations will be more efficient and more green. “Renewables are a cost-effective opportunity, especially locally.” 


The spotted lanternfly lands in western Pa.
(12:54 — 18:03)


The spotted lanternfly—an invasive and notoriously destructive insect—has been found in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture put Allegheny and Beaver counties under a quarantine for lanternflies earlier this year to try and stop the species’ migration across the state. That means certain products like plants and wood aren't allowed to travel to keep the spread to a minimum.


According to Joe Stavish, community education manager forTree Pittsburgh, the lanternfly can affect not only trees, but also important agricultural crops like grapes, hops, and vegetables. As it sucks the sap out of plants, it excretes a sugary substance that turns into mold, which can cause problems for plants and people alike.


“We’re definitely telling people to go out and look at their plants—especially trees, but really any plants in the landscape,” says Stavish.


The lanternfly looks similar to a moth. It is black with white spots when it is young, and becomes gray and red with black spots when it reaches adulthood. Stavish says that anyone who spots one should be sure to follow proper procedure for documenting and reporting the insect.  


“The recommendations are once you take a picture, once you document and report it, they want you to smash these things. So they don’t want you to just let them go, because that can spread the population really quickly,” he says. “If we can really track where it is now and destroy those small populations, that’ll help us for the future.”


Reports about the spotted lanternfly in southwestern Pennsylvania can be made to thePennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s spotted lanternfly hotline, or toPenn State Extension


The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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