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Pittsburgh Public Schools Might Bring Some Students Back This Month

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Francisco Seco
/
AP
Pittsburgh Public Schools are hoping to bring English language learners and special education students on campus in late January, after months of online learning.

On today's program: Pittsburgh Public Schools administrators are assessing when to bring some students back to schools; A local environmental advocacy group weighs in on the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated rules for lead and copper and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s work on reducing lead in drinking water; and Erie voters with differing political views discuss the results of the general election.

Pittsburgh Public Schools hopes to bring back students, but only if the data says it’s safe

( 0:00 - 4:32) 

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said Tuesday students could start returning to the classrooms for in-person learning as early as January 27, which is the start of the second semester.

 

“It’s important to note this would be a small group of students,” explains WESA’s education reporter Sarah Schneider. These students include those with disabilities and those learning English as a second language. The district brought this cohort back into the classroom briefly last fall, but they returned to remote learning after a week due to rising cases across Allegheny County.

“Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said the administration will review state data released on January 15 to determine if or when students and staff will return to schools,” says Schneider. The district’s contracted physician Dr. Martin Gregorio says they’re monitoring community spread of COVID-19. 

There are not yet plans for bringing back students of all grades and all teachers for on-campus instruction.

New EPA rules mean less lead is allowed in drinking water

(4:38 - 13:11) 

The Environmental Protection Agency recently updated its rules for detecting and replacing water pipes contaminated with lead. Systems where 10 parts per billion of lead is detected will have to be addressed.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority announced this past summer that it reached its lowest lead levels in 20 years: 5.1 parts per billion. 

However, Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, Executive Director of Women for a Healthy Environment, says the level of acceptable lead in drinking water should be even lower.  

“The science tells us that there is no safe amount of lead,” she says. 

The new EPA rules, for the first time, require testing in some schools and child care facilities every five years.

“But we know that simply testing is not enough, and we have to require remediation in order to solve the problem,” says Naccarati-Chapkis. Women for a Healthy Environment offers a program for facilities to apply for funding so that they may test and remediate for lead in paint, soil, dust and water.
Naccarati-Chapkis says that so far, over 200 learning facilities have received funding and lead has been detected in all of them.

The new rules also mean it could take longer for lead service line replacements to occur. 

“Cities will now be required to replace just 3 percent of the lead service lines each year, rather than the previous 7 percent,” says Naccarati-Chapkis.

PWSA, however, committed to replace all lead service lines by 2026

Naccarati-Chapkis says despite these reservations, there are some good requirements under the EPA’s new rules. For example, the person testing water must draw four liters of water before collecting the test sample so the water is more likely to come from the lead service line rather than the internal plumbing. Water systems also have to develop a lead service line inventory, or demonstrate the absence of a lead service line.

Still, the future is promising, says Naccarati-Chapkis. PWSA has done well to document and mitigate lead in drinking water, and her greater concerns lie with other, less resourced systems in Allegheny County. 

Erie voters discuss their reactions to the November election

(13:16 - 18:00) 

 Erie County is a well known swing county in the state: one that went for President Donald Trump in 2016 and flipped to President-Elect Joe Biden last November. 

Judging by the switch, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking it a starkly divided community, but a conversation with seven voters shows many are more willing to work toward common goals than seek out what separates them. 

WITF’s Sam Dunklau led the recent chat as part of the America Amplified project. 

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.

Correction: This podcast episode was updated to reflect that boil water advisories are not related to lead contamination in water. 

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. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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