By Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Current Education Writer
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and we will update with additional comments and information as it becomes available.
Facebook posts of Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet socializing recently in Palm Beach with a group that did not use face masks or appear to social distance has Pittsburgh parents posting angry comments.
The original post of Hamlet’s gathering with friends on his personal Facebook account was reposted by Pittsburgh parent Stephanie Blodwyn Pawlowski, who said she was infuriated to see the superintendent socializing in Florida when students, including her two children, have been out of school for nearly a year.
She called the post “tone deaf” as parents and students in Pittsburgh have been refraining from eating in restaurants and gathering in social settings in order to get the COVID counts down low enough for children to return to school.
And noted parents’ frustrations that district children have been out of school for nearly a year.
District Spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said Hamlet was not in Florida to socialize. Hamlet, who is a native of the Palm Beach area, was there this weekend to visit his mother who is battling a serious illness and undergoing treatment.
After spending time with his mother, he went out to dinner with friends. She said the intent of the weekend was not to socialize but to spend time with his mother and that he followed all COVID protocols when he ate in a restaurant with friends.
However, in the post, Hamlet is shown in photos arm-in-arm with a woman and neither are wearing masks. The post is titled: “A fun-filled impromptu weekend with old friends and new ones, visiting from out of town.”
Pugh said the superintendent is now back in town — he attended the virtual board legislative session on Wednesday — and is quarantining.
She said the issue “seems to be a distraction from what we are trying to do.” The district announced it plans to start phasing students back into the classrooms on April 6 in a hybrid attendance model.
“He wasn’t there to meet his friends, but that wasn’t why he was there. He was down there to be with his mother who is battling a serious illness. He followed the guidelines and protocols when heading to dinner and after returning home he is quarantining,” she said.
Within the past 30 minutes, Hamlet released the following statement regarding his trip:
Hamlet did not address complaints about going out to dinner without a mask, as portrayed in the photos.
School Board President Sylvia Wilson could not be reached for comment.
Pawlowski said she is angry at the example set by Hamlet.
“I am frustrated because I am working from home, working remotely and trying to keep two kids in school and making sacrifices to try to get our kids back to school. Parents have not been eating in restaurants or having social gatherings or letting their children have birthday parties. They are making sacrifices,” Pawlowski said, adding that one of her children has special needs.
She said that the lack of masking wearing in the photos was concerning.
“No one is wearing masks and they are in a restaurant in Florida which has ridiculously high COVID numbers and seem to be going with the assumption that COVID doesn’t exist,” Pawlowksi said.
“It’s like a slap in the face,” she said.
Parents commenting on Pawlowski’s post shared her sentiments.
“It’s fundamentally reprehensible to fly to Florida for a social trip and hang out unmasked ARGH,” wrote one commenter.
“It is SO maddening that he seems blind to the consequences of actions like this. Either he doesn’t care or he doesn’t realize, and either way, it’s a pretty terrible look for the leader of a city public school system. We’re working our asses off to make PPS a place parents can trust, and he pulls crap like this. STOP,” wrote another.
And another commented: “And just Monday there was a public hearing where a number of special ed parents of children with serious medical issues testified about how virtual is risking their kids lives…by not getting needed therapy. His timing was abhorrent.”
Pawlowski wrote a letter this morning expressing her outrage to school directors Pam Harbin and Terry Kennedy.
In the letter she wrote: “In the past year, my children have not had one single playdate. We have not gone to a restaurant, gotten our haircut, gone to the zoo or a museum, spent time with my sister and her children, or gone to a birthday or holiday celebration. We made all of these sacrifices so that COVID numbers can improve and they can go back to school.
Imagine how stunned I was to see the photos on Facebook circulating of Dr. Hamlet last weekend in Palm Beach, with friends at a restaurant, not one of them wearing a mask. It was a slap in the face to those of us struggling every day.”
Harbin declined comment and Kennedy could not be reached for comment.