Pittsburgh Public releases its health and safety plan, a board member pushes to start the school year with everyone remote

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A Pittsburgh Public Schools transportation van parked outside the district's administrative building in Oakland in August 2018. (Photo by Kat Procyk/PublicSource)

A Pittsburgh Public Schools transportation van parked outside the district's administrative building in Oakland in August 2018. (Photo by Kat Procyk/PublicSource)

At last, details of the health and safety plan for Pittsburgh Public Schools were released Wednesday at the start of the school board’s July legislative meeting. It was also proposed by a board member that staff and students begin the first nine weeks of the school year in full-time e-learning.

The release of the 59-page health and safety plan comes two days after a public hearing, where multiple speakers voiced worries to the board about the return to school in the fall. 

Pam Capretta, district chief operations officer, presented key aspects from the plan regarding cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, monitoring, social distancing and other health and safety protocols. More than 770 viewers were tuned into the livestream.

The school board’s vote on the plan was postponed until Aug. 4, in order to first hold a special hearing for the board to hear public comment. The public hearing will be livestreamed 5 p.m. July 29. Testimony for the hearing must be submitted to the board by July 28.

Among the procedures — daily classroom and hallway cleanings, weekly deep cleanings, desk shields for teachers, staggered schedules and dismissal times and limited shared materials. On school buses, seats will be assigned, schedules will be adjusted and all students will wear masks, with exceptions for special needs students. To monitor health, the plan includes daily temperature checks for staff and students at intake, and increased signage about health protocols.

In the case of an exposed student or a positive case of coronavirus, a quarantine area would be established, impacted staff and families will be notified, the building will close for at least two days and be sanitized and disinfected. 

The plan also includes professional development around COVID-19 health and safety for school staff, including substitutes, bus drivers and other district staff. 

Capretta said the plan was reviewed by Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. To create the plan, the pandemic team also leaned on information from a variety of resources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Pennsylvania School Reopening Task Force report and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Capretta reiterated the two learning options available to families — the blended in-school model, a mix of in school instruction and e-learning, and full-time e-learning by choice. As of Wednesday, 4,126 students were enrolled in full-time e-learning by choice, the district said. Family enrollment for full time e-learning ends Aug. 30. Students are scheduled to begin school on Aug. 31.

Full-time e-learning for all is also available in the case that schools are unable to reopen at the start of the school year, or need to close because of a spike in cases.

An emergency resolution to ensure at least 180 days of instruction this school year — a minimum of 900 hours for elementary students and 990 hours for secondary students — was also presented and passed unanimously at the meeting.

Later in the meeting, Board Member Kevin Carter introduced a new resolution, which called on the board to begin the school year online and postpone in-class instruction for the first nine weeks of the semester.

The goal of the resolution, Carter said, is to “help structure, kind of, our focus for the fall, given the fact that we keep having more and more positive cases of COVID every day and the uncertainty of time and waiting could put families even more at risk of not being prepared for what is to come at the start of the school year.” 

It also gives the school board and administration “necessary time to weed out some of the missing details” of how in-person instruction will be done safely.

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet added that it’s something the administration discussed as a possibility because “we’re in a space where we can see continued spikes of COVID,” in Allegheny County and beyond. 

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

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