‘By the Book’ PGH K-12 Bulletins: Board considering another delay to Pittsburgh students returning to school

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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.

1/20/21: Another in-person instruction delay on the table for PPS

It may be April before Pittsburgh Public students see the inside of school buildings again.

Students may begin their return to in-person instruction on April 6 if a resolution proposed at Wednesday’s school board meeting is approved next week at the board’s legislative hearing. Board President Sylvia Wilson presented the resolution to the board and about 550 people who watched the afternoon livestream. April 6 marks the start of the school year’s fourth quarter.

Board member Terry Kennedy said “There are more factors than just the rates of positive tests and other medical stuff,” noting transportation and in-person staffing needs. “It’s never easy but the larger you are, the more complicated these logistics become.”

Not all board members spoke on the proposed resolution, but among the most vocal was board member Veronica Edwards who said she “will definitely vote no” on the resolution next week.

Edwards said numerous reports and student data released in recent months are “all showing that our children are not achieving” in a virtual learning setting. She said the move would not be “in the best interest of the students.”

She noted that an April 6 return will mark longer than one year since students were in buildings.

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

1/5/21: 5 takeaways from PPS’ first address of 2021

A day after Pittsburgh Public School students returned to remote learning on Jan. 4, the district held a conference to announce what’s on the horizon as questions swirled about the return to in-person learning. District staff, board members and Superintendent Anthony Hamlet led the conference, where they outlined what’s next for the district, what it will take for students and teachers to return to buildings and the future of the district’s strategic plan. 

Hamlet said at the conference that “2020 has proven we have what it takes to reach our high impact goals of 2021,” including:

  • Phasing in the safe return of students and staff for in-person instruction
  • Transforming policies and practices that lead to student interaction with the criminal justice system
  • Negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers “that recognizes the best interests of teachers, students and taxpayers”
  • Developing the next five-year strategic plan, Imagine PPS, which he said will build on the work of the most recent strategic plan, Expect Great Things. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The district will look to COVID rates released by the Pennsylvania Department of Health on and after Jan. 15 to determine and finalize when staff and students will return to school buildings for hybrid learning.

District Physician Dr. Martin Gregorio said the district is monitoring PCR percent positivity and incident rates of COVID across Allegheny County to inform decisions. He said the transmission rates the district is monitoring “remains high, but is improving.” The PCR percent positivity rate, for example, is currently 11.2% for Allegheny County. Gregorio said the district “would like to see that number drop below 10” before students and staff return to buildings. However, there’s an expected post-holiday spike that could impact or delay whether doors get opened. As it is, staff members aren’t expected to return any sooner than Jan. 18 and students no sooner than Jan. 27.

  • The district officially has enough devices to be completely 1-to-1, where every student has a district device.

“...Today we have every laptop for every single one of our students in our hands,” said District Chief Technology Officer Mark Stuckey, who added that the district plans to distribute technology through the end of January to students still in need of devices. The district has ordered more than 22,000 laptops and 3,200 iPads for students.

  • The district continues its search for 125 missing students. 

Hamlet said the district is still trying to contact about 125 students they haven’t been able to contact since school began in September. The district, he said, is working with the Department of Health and Human Services as well as individual schools to make phone calls and contact families. 

  • The district is going to survey its faculty and staff about vaccinations.

Hamlet said vaccinations won’t be mandatory for faculty or staff, but the district will survey staff soon about who may want to get voluntarily vaccinated. Gregorio said teachers are in category 1B to receive the vaccine, but the state doesn’t have a set date for teachers to receive the vaccine. 

As for data about how many PPS teachers may have contracted COVID in the fall, Hamlet said a data dashboard is on the way to be made publicly available with information the district has collected about who has contracted or been exposed to COVID.

  • More attendance data trickles into the light.

At the conference, Hamlet said 98.5% of students have logged onto the Schoology online learning management platform “at some point during the school year.” He also cited a 90.7% daily attendance rate, but it was unclear whether students were staying online throughout the day after logging in. Students need to attend at least one class period per day to be considered in attendance, Hamlet said.

“Once this pandemic is over, the lasting effects on the learning of our students will last a lifetime...” Hamlet said. “So thinking about the future, what support we put in place, that's really going to support our students and catch them up academically.”

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

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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