Welcome to “By The Book: PGH K-12 Bulletins,” which provides updates on emerging and ever changing news in the Pittsburgh K-12 education landscape. With more than 40 school districts across Allegheny County, the Bulletins will update you on the region’s latest education news, including close coverage of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, other Allegheny County school districts, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and other important agencies, which serve thousands of Pittsburgh families. Please check back frequently and email tylisa@publicsource.org with questions, tips or Bulletin ideas. Follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #PGHed for news updates on Pittsburgh education.

3/24/21: By May 3, all PPS students will return, district leaders say

One year after leaving, Pittsburgh Public Schools students are learning when they may be able to return to classrooms. All 22,000 students are expected to return to brick-and-mortar school buildings for hybrid learning by May 3, the district announced Tuesday evening.

The district made the announcement at a meeting for families where district leaders gave families and staff updated information on the phase-in of students, mitigation strategies and technology. More than 500 viewers tuned into the virtual meeting.

“We have never stopped working to reopen our schools,” said District Superintendent Anthony Hamlet in his opening remarks.

The return to school will begin on April 6 with student support category 4 – students who haven’t progressed in eLearning, followed by category 3 students, who showed “some progress” in eLearning, by the district’s measures. Students who displayed progress this year will begin to return on May 3. The 2020-21 school year ends on June 11.

District leaders also noted updated mitigation measures, including two students instead of one to a seat on buses. Students are expected to bring fully charged devices and device chargers to school each day to accommodate the two learning models presented at the meeting. The station-rotation hybrid learning model divides class time for students and rotates them through three learning stations: group instruction, asynchronous learning and teacher-led instruction. The hybrid learning model allows in-person and virtual students to attend class at the same time and combines live teacher interaction with asynchronous activities.

The district estimated about 80% of PPS staff received the vaccine, though the district has no official tracking system for teacher vaccinations. (See more on teacher vaccination tracking in the 3/19/21 ‘By the Book’ update below.)

Following a presentation, the district also had a panel of students and parents who questioned district leadership about updated plans.

TyLisa C. Johnson covers education for PublicSource. She can be reached at tylisa@publicsource.org.

3/19/21: No changes for PPS based on CDC guidance and more news on students’ return to schools

Pittsburgh Public Schools will keep its 6-foot social distancing plans when students return to school buildings despite the CDC changing its guidance to say 3 feet is now sufficient, district officials said in a Friday afternoon media briefing. 

The district will maintain its 6-foot restrictions “just out of an abundance of caution,” said District Spokeswoman Ebony Pugh.

She added that the district wants to “stay in line with the current structure that we have in place, but also we’re focused on getting our kids back and we’re not at the place where we can shift.”

The announcement comes on the heels of updated guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday to shrink the distancing requirement between students in a classroom setting from 6 feet apart to 3 feet apart. While the 6-foot distancing guidance still applies for the general public, some hope this change for schools will allow more students to return to in-person learning. 

Here are other takeaways from the district’s weekly briefing:

Students will begin to return to PPS buildings in a hybrid model on April 6.

Category 4 students will return first. Category 4 students are those who the district has identified as not progressing in a virtual environment based on data from the fall semester, including grades, attendance and social-emotional learning survey information. Through an algorithm created by the district, each student received an index score grouping them into a student support category, officials said. 

Teachers and staff will return to school buildings on March 22. Category 3 students are expected to return to schools on April 26. Category 3 students are those who demonstrated “some progress in eLearning.” Categories 1 and 2 are designated for students who either demonstrated progress or positive progress in virtual learning.

“It’s our intention to bring all of our students back at some point this school year but we’re really excited that by the end of April, we’ll have a little over 10,000 students who will be back in the buildings,” Pugh said.

The district maintenance staff has completed more than 500 ventilation-related work orders.

In the weeks and months leading up to the return to school buildings by students, the district has reviewed ventilation equipment, purchased air purifiers, purchased replacement air filters and completed hundreds of work orders related to ventilation. District air purifiers will be in isolation rooms, main offices “and other high-traffic areas as necessary.” 

While open windows provide additional fresh air and are recommended where possible, “none of our buildings rely on opening windows for proper ventilation,” said Michael McNamara, the district’s interim chief operations officer.

There’s no official tracking system for teacher, employee vaccinations at PPS.

Pugh said the district is aware of more than 3,100 teachers, support staff and bus drivers who have received a COVID vaccination so far; about 200 of them received the vaccine as part of the state’s first phase. About 350 employees said in a district survey that they didn’t want to receive a vaccine through the district.

“We had the vaccinations available,” Pugh said. “In terms of specific numbers, if people went and received their vaccination themselves, we don’t have, you know, we haven’t been asking them for that, to let us know that they received it.”

TyLisa C. Johnson covers education for PublicSource. She can be reached at tylisa@publicsource.org.

January recap:

1/20/21: Another in-person instruction delay on the table for PPS
1/5/21: 5 takeaways from PPS’ first address of 2021

December recap:

12/16/20: Pittsburgh Public passes 2021 budget without a tax increase. Here are 3 key takeaways.
12/15/20: For the 2021 Pittsburgh Public budget, a property tax hike is on the table
12/11/20: Advocates call out a lack of state special ed funding in PA as costs skyrocket
12/10/20: Q&A: A chance to change – One PA advocate on what PPS should fund instead of school police in 2021 budget
TyLisa C. Johnson covers education for PublicSource. She can be reached at tylisa@publicsource.org.

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TyLisa C. Johnson is the Audience Engagement Editor at PublicSource. She’s passionate about telling compelling human stories that intersect with complex issues affecting marginalized groups. Before joining...