By Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Current Education Writer
The board of the Pittsburgh Public Schools will discuss a resolution later today that would delay the return of students to the classroom until at least April 6, the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Pittsburgh Current has learned.
Current plans called for students to be phased into in-person hybrid learning on Feb. 8.
The resolution was not, at the time of publication, on the agenda for the board’s agenda review meeting, which starts at 4 p.m. but Pittsburgh Current obtained a copy. The meeting can be viewed on the district’s livestream page.
While the resolution does not specifically state the reason for the delay, it mentions that the district is implementing a program for employees to receive vaccines but does not mention when that will take place. Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said earlier this month the district had an agreement with UMPC Children’s Hospital to vaccinate employees.
The resolution states: “The Administration will continue to monitor the available data, Guidelines and Orders of the County of Allegheny, the PA Department of Health, and the CDC during this period as well as the progress of the vaccination program to determine whether the return to a program of in-person instruction, the provisions of which will be determined at or before the end of the third quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, shall be implemented.”
The resolution does not sit well with James Fogarty, executive director of A+Schools.
“It is completely inequitable to continue to delay the opening of school especially for the students who have been identified as the highest risk of learning loss and in need of school-provided services,” Fogarty said.
“We cannot delay any further as suburban districts and private schools stay open and educate students to a much higher degree than our students in the City of Pittsburgh are being educated,” he added.
The majority of the 23,000 students in the Pittsburgh district have not been in class since schools were shuttered March 13, 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, most other districts in Allegheny County have had periods of in-person hybrid classes for students.
Hybrid models call for dividing students into two groups that attend school in-person on two days– either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday — and remotely for three days with buildings being sanitized in between the groups’ attendance.
The resolution to be discussed today comes just two weeks after Hamlet announced at a Jan. 5 press conference that teachers were expected to be brought back to the classroom on Jan. 18, to be followed by a phase-in return of students starting on Jan. 27. He said the return was contingent on COVID rates in the county.
Hamlet later, during a Jan. 11 board committee meeting, pushed those dates back to Feb. 1 for a return for teachers and Feb. 8 for a phased-in return of students, though the district never issued a formal announcement about that delay.
The reason Hamlet stated for that delay was that COVID cases were expected to spike in the last two weeks of January as a result of a surge resulting from holiday gatherings.
The new resolution is just another twist in the saga of the PPS school year, which was supposed to start Aug. 31 with an in -person hybrid plan that would have had one cohort of students attending on Mondays and Tuesdays and another cohort on Thursdays and Fridays. Students would attend online classes on the days they weren’t in the classroom and school buildings would be sanitized in between the cohorts.
Much of the summer was spent by district officials and dozens of others who volunteered in the “All-In To Reopen our Schools” effort planning for that reopening of schools.
But the plan never came to fruition because on July 31 the school board approved a resolution to hold the first nine weeks of classes fully remote. A shortage of computer devices delayed the start of school until Sept. 8. .
The July 31 resolution called for students to return to class at the start of the second nine weeks on Nov. 9 in a hybrid model for those who chose in-person education. A cohort of students chose in the fall to remain online.
In late October, the board changed its mind, passing a new resolution that abandoned the plan for most students to return with a hybrid model but called for bringing in a smaller cohort of students, known as “cohort D.”
That cohort included a group of about 800 students with special needs along with English language learners and those who were struggling academically.
The resolution called for phasing in other students to hybrid education no earlier than Jan. 4 and no later than Jan. 25.
The resolution gave Hamlet the discretion, without a board vote, to decide to return to online learning whenever he felt it was appropriate.
Cohort D returned to the classrooms on Nov. 9 with some attending four days a week and others attending two days.
But by Nov. 13, Hamlet cited rising COVID case counts and test positivity rates in the county as the reason he was returning all students to remote learning. In addition, the district’s teaching staff, which had been required to return to the classroom that week, were also permitted to return to teaching from their homes.
At the Jan. 5 press conference, Hamlet said he was confident there would be enough teachers to fill classrooms if students were brought back despite the fact that in November he had difficulty finding teachers.
In November, there were 189 COVID-related leaves by staff and the district had trouble finding substitutes
Teachers have, however, during various public hearings in recent months, made it clear they do not think it is safe for them to return to in-person teaching.