By Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Current Education Writer
Rising daily COVD-19 case counts and test positivity rates in Allegheny County has prompted Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet to make the decision to return to full remote education on Monday until sometime in January.
Hamlet first told the Pittsburgh Current about the decision during a Friday morning interview
The district this week started in-person education for about 800 students, a group that included students with disabilities and English Language Learners. The students were housed in 19 of the district’s more than 50 buildings.
The students were a part of what was designated as Cohort D, which included vulnerable students who administrators and principals deemed needed to be in school because they could not receive their full education online. More students were expected to be added to the cohort in the coming weeks.
On Thursday evening, the district announced it was closing Pittsburgh Arsenal 6-8 and PreK-5 because a staff member at each school had tested positive for COVID-19 this week. Pittsburgh Conroy Education Center, which was also scheduled to house students this week, was closed Saturday after staff members tested positive for COVID-19. That building was slated to reopen on Nov. 16, but that is now off.
The county’s increasing positivity rate on tests, which increased from 4.3 percent last week to 7.7 percent so far this week, according to Hamlet, is what alarms him the most. In addition, on Thursday, Allegheny County reported 412 new cases, the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic in March.
“From my standpoint, I see the trends in the numbers. I think it’ll be better to call it today than wait until Monday,” Hamlet said.
Hamlet made his final decision Friday afternoon after reviewing the most recent caseload and positivity rates and holding a phone discussion with board members.
District teachers also were required to return to their classrooms this week to teach remotely, however, Hamlet said all students will return to remote learning on Monday, all teachers will also be permitted to return to their homes to teach.
Across the district, there were 189 COVID-related leaves by staff. Of that total, 143 were for childcare reasons.
Hamlet said the district had trouble finding enough substitutes for in-person learning for the students in Cohort D. As a result, he said teachers who did report for work, along with administrators, took on larger classroom loads than originally anticipated so that all students could attend.
Under the resolution that allows for the reopening of schools, Hamlet has the discretion, without a board vote, to decide to return to online learning whenever he feels its appropriate.
The resolution called for starting to bring Cohort D students on Nov. 9 with some attending four days and others attending two days per week. It also called for phasing in the rest of the student population via a hybrid plan in January, no sooner than Jan. 4 and no later than Jan. 25.
The hybrid plan includes Cohort D. but also includes cohorts AA and BB who would attend school in-person two days a week and remotely three days a week. Cohort C includes students who chose to remain learning online.
Hamlet said if the district returns to full remote learning on Monday, it will be his recommendation to start to bring students back in mid-January at the earliest to allow for a 14-day quarantine after the Christmas holiday.
But even that decision, the superintendent said, would hinge on COVID caseloads and positivity rates.