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Pittsburgh Public School Board Votes To Delay Start Of School Year

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Katie Blackley
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90.5 WESA

On today’s program: A debrief about the Pittsburgh Public School board’s decision to approve the delay of the start of the school year; and a conversation with a Pitt professor who is organizing students and volunteers to help Afghan residents get the paperwork they need to apply for special visas in the U.S.

Pittsburgh Public Schools will start school eight days later than expected
(0:00 - 6:51)

The board of Pittsburgh Public Schools voted unanimously last night to delay the start of the school year by eight days, starting on September 3.

The school year was supposed to start next Monday, Aug. 23, and then earlier this month Superintendent Anthony Hamlet proposed postponing the first day of school for two weeks but changed course hours before the vote.

“The board heard from almost 120 parents and students and community members this week and a large majority of them urged the district not to delay the school year, they said, ‘We can’t find childcare and this is too last minute,’” says WESA education reporter Sarah Schneider.

Schneider says child care is an issue throughout the city. Providers are putting families on waitlists, and some providers have not survived the pandemic.

“[Hamlet] said that September 3 is the earliest feasible day that they could go back because there is a bus driver shortage and he said that they can’t find transportation for all of the kids and they need a little bit more time,” says Schneider.

Despite the board’s vote, there are still some unknowns. The district contracted with two new transportation companies last month, both of which need time to onboard new drivers.

The district also wants to establish staggered start times for students, starting high school students to start their day earlier and elementary students to start school later, which would allow the buses to transport more students. However, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers also has to vote to approve this change.

The teachers union members are voting by mail, and the ballots should be tallied by Monday.

Pitt students are helping Afghan residents gather documents to seek asylum
(7:01 - 22:30) 

Pittsburgh has been designated as a resettlement site for people fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Several local aid organizations are gearing up to provide assistance.

Many Afghan residents wonder what will happen next, and University of Pittsburgh students and volunteers have mobilized to help Afghan civilians seek refuge in the U.S.

“In order to apply for asylum you need proof that you worked for a U.S. contractor or a nonprofit,” explains Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the director of the university’ Center for Governance and Markets. “I was getting requests from people who I knew, very well educated, very well connected people who were struggling to get these letters.”

In response, Murtazashvili started helping them find that proof. Soon, others started asking for help and Murtazashvili recruited volunteers to help her.

“What we basically have done is expanded on this work that I was providing to my friends, realizing that this was an unmet need, and to help people connect with their organizations that they used to work for, and that’s all we’re doing.”

Those who worked for the U.S. government and nonprofits are eligible to apply for an expanded visa program, but they need documented proof of their employment. After 20 years of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Murtazashvili predicts about 100,000 people would qualify for this program.

She says another challenge, in addition to getting this paperwork, is that people cannot apply for asylum from Afghanistan or the U.S. They have to be in a third country to do so.

“The people who were at the airport that day that you saw those horrific scenes are people who worked for the United States, who stood by the United States, who worked on many of our projects over the past 20 years,” says Murtazashvili.

She says it’s unclear what the timeframe is for those applying for these visas.

“Right now we’re just in crisis response mode, we’ve got well over a thousand people who have reached out to us.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.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. 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.
Hello! My name’s Rebecca Reese, and I’m a rising Junior English Writing / Digital Narrative & Interactive Design student at the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, I’m working as a production assistant for The Confluence. I’ve lived in the Pittsburgh area my entire life, and have a passion for technical audio production as well as social issues, especially those relevant locally. Funding of the Internship Program is made possible with a grant from the American Eagle Outfitters Foundation.
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