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.

08/31/21: PPS bus seat gap down, transportation questions for some families remain

The Pittsburgh Public Schools transportation seat gap is down to about 650 families who were notified by the school district Monday evening. The seat gap was nearly 11,000 at the start of summer.

The steep drop comes from a combination of strategies by the district including changing school start and end times, adding new bus carriers, expanding use of Port Authority, increasing walk zones and asking some families to release seats if they can transport students themselves.

The district alerted about 650 families on Monday evening that they were still in the district’s seat gap, which means the student’s bus still needs a driver. Families are eligible for a daily reimbursement for transporting their children until the district finds drivers.

The district anticipates this number will drop daily as new drivers are cleared and trained to service students, a Monday release said.

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

08/25/21: Vaccinations for PPS staff, earlier start times for students on the horizon

In a flurry of approvals on Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Public Schools board approved an agreement that will change school start and end times, and a resolution to require its staff to provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing.

The board unanimously approved a resolution that directs the district solicitor and superintendent to enter talks with its bargaining units to push for mandatory staff vaccination. The approved resolution requires employees to provide proof of vaccination status “at a date to be determined” or submit to weekly testing. Masks will also be required for staff in district buildings.

The board also ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teacher that includes shifts to school start and end times, which the district claims will aid its ongoing transportation seat gap. Union members approved the tentative agreement on Monday. Nearly 88% of members who voted were in favor of the contract which will end June 30, 2024.

Parents have decried the push for earlier school start times in letters and statements to the school board, online petitions and in-person protests. District officials continued to push for the modifications because their student transportation plans to resume in-person learning five days a week relied on the changes.

Other notable board approvals:
The board approved changes to the feeder pattern for Pittsburgh Faison K-5 and Pittsburgh Lincoln PreK-5. The change expands the feeder pattern for Lincoln to include families who live closer to Lincoln but are currently part of Pittsburgh Faison.

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

08/19/21: PPS to return Sept. 3, a compromise after parents and students blasted the delay

Pittsburgh Public Schools will resume classes on Sept. 3, following a unanimous vote by the nine-member school board to approve changes to the district’s 2021-2022 calendar on Wednesday evening.

The new calendar converts some typical vacation days to learning days, including election days in May and November and the day after Thanksgiving. It also adds snow days and approves Juneteenth as a holiday, among other changes.

Following testimony from hundreds of students and parents in a public hearing that stretched two days, district leaders early Wednesday — ahead of two planned board meetings — pushed to change the proposed Sept. 8 start date to Sept. 3. The board pushed back the original start date of Aug. 25, drawing intense criticism from parents and some students.

More than 900 viewers logged on to view the school board’s special legislative hearing and agenda review meetings which lasted nearly four hours Wednesday.

Board members gave impassioned remarks and questioned the superintendent and his cabinet about ongoing transportation challenges, communication with district parents and reported declines in enrollment.

Several members said they planned to support the calendar change but went on to express concern about the timing of communicating to families the depth of the district’s transportation challenges.

Board President Sylvia Wilson noted that the community members who gave testimony at the public hearing didn’t reflect the feelings of everyone in the district and that the board’s duty is to the whole district.

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet offered district parents an apology, saying the district will try to communicate sooner rather than later and may even oversaturate parents with information:

The board also approved payments to parents as reimbursement for transporting some students to school:

See the full Twitter thread here: https://twitter.com/tylisawrites/status/1428120257214943233?s=21 

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

08/10/21: Pittsburgh Public to return in September

Citing transportation issues and a need to address concerns about masking up in sweltering August heat, the Pittsburgh Public Schools district announced Tuesday it would delay the start of its school year until Sept. 8. Teachers will return on Aug. 30.

School was initially set to begin on Aug. 25. The school calendar changes will be voted on by the school board at a special legislative meeting next week, Hamlet said.

“These are some difficult decisions we’re going through right now based on our current state and current context we’re in right now,” Hamlet said. The district’s priority, he continued, is getting students transportation to and from school and planning to avoid future transportation disruptions.

The late start will push the final days of the school year for students to June 22. The school year typically ends for students in early June. Teachers will finish the year on June 24.

More takeaways:

    • With an uncertain fall in the face of new COVID variants, Hamlet says hybrid and remote learning could be a possibility

“We don’t know where this delta variant is going. We don’t know where the Lambda variant is going,” Hamlet said. “There may be a hybrid, there may be remote based on various factors.”

  • With all students set to return to school buildings, the district is short 426 bus drivers. The shortage is resulting in a lack of nearly 11,000 seats needed to transport students.. But officials say it’ll be solved in time for the return to school.

With adjustments to school start and end times, increased use of Port Authority buses and expanded walk zones, the district says it’ll decrease the seat gap to about 6,000. The district anticipates also bringing three new carriers on board to reduce the seat gap to zero, following a board vote later this month. The later start of school, district officials said, will give additional time to recruit and train bus drivers.

  • In response to floating parent concerns about young students traveling on Port Authority buses at early times, Hamlet referenced a similar shift the district made last year at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, when they put 7th and 8th graders on Port Authority buses. He said the district received ‘thank you’ notes from parents in the weeks that followed, saying the travel gave their kids a new sense of independence.

“When it happened, of course there’s some angst because this is new, children might not be prepared to ride Port Authority, but we’ve put some supports in place to help kids transition,” Hamlet said.
The district said they work with community organizations and are putting student ambassadors in place to assist new Port Authority riders. They’ve also urged families to download Pittsburgh transit apps to familiarize themselves with routes they’ll be riding.

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

08/04/21: Teacher’s union agreement could lead to new school start, end times

As part of an announcement about a new collective bargaining agreement with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, the Pittsburgh Public Schools district noted that a shift in school start and end times may be on the horizon.

Multi-tiered scheduling of school start and end times could be enacted to address an ongoing school bus driver shortage and a gap in seat availability for students. The district said staggered transportation scheduling could increase the number of routes completed by bus drivers and, therefore, extend transportation to more students who need it.

The district said it has plans to share more information with parents and families about proposed adjustments to schools’ start and end times in the coming days.

In a Wednesday release, Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said he was thankful to reach a tentative agreement with the union that represents the 2,400 district teachers and professional employees.
The tentative agreement comes more than a year after the former contract expired in June 2020 and awaits approval by federation membership and the district’s board of directors.

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

July recap:

07/29/21: Pittsburgh Public’s students will wear masks this fall
07/29/21: Pittsburgh Public’s students will wear masks this fall
07/29/21: Top 2 PPS leaders go before council members to address city’s ‘educational emergency’
07/29/21: Top 2 PPS leaders go before council members to address city’s ‘educational emergency’

June recap:

June recap:

06/30/21: New state budget funnels millions to public education
06/30/21: New state budget funnels millions to public education
06/17/21: Staff shortages at PPS’ Summer BOOST, district may cut more than 1,000 students

May recap:

5/25/21: Allegheny County names first director of Department of Children Initiatives
5/25/21: Allegheny County names first director of Department of Children Initiatives
5/14/21: All students, five days a week this fall, district leaders say
5/14/21: All students, five days a week this fall, district leaders say

March recap:

March recap:

3/24/21: By May 3, all PPS students will return, district leaders say
3/24/21: By May 3, all PPS students will return, district leaders say
3/19/21: No changes for PPS based on CDC guidance and more news on students’ return to schools
3/19/21: No changes for PPS based on CDC guidance and more news on students’ return to schools

January recap:

January recap:

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

December recap:

December recap:

12/16/20: Pittsburgh Public passes 2021 budget without a tax increase. Here are 3 key takeaways.
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
12/15/20: 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
12/11/20: 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
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.

This fact-based local reporting drives impact and creates change. Help power that impact.

James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” PublicSource exists to help the Pittsburgh region face its realities and create opportunities for change. When we shine a light on inequity in our region, like the “completely unacceptable” conditions in low-income housing in McKeesport, things change. When we ask questions about policymakers’ decisions, like how Allegheny County is handling COVID-19 safety for its employees, things change. When we push for transparency on issues that affect the public, like in the use of facial recognition software by Pittsburgh police, things change.

It takes a lot of time, skill and resources to produce journalism like this. Our stories are always made available for free so that they can benefit the most people, regardless of ability to pay. But as an independent, nonprofit newsroom, we count on donations from our readers to support this crucial work. Can you make a contribution of any amount (or better yet, set up a recurring monthly gift) to help ensure we can continue to report on what matters and tell stories for a better Pittsburgh?

TyLisa C. Johnson

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...