By Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Current Education Writer
It seems likely the board of the Pittsburgh Public Schools will approve a resolution on Jan. 27 that will keep students out of the classroom until at least April 6.
The board discussed the resolution during its virtual agenda review meeting yesterday, although the resolution never appeared on the public agenda. Instead, it was read to the board by president Sylvia Wilson.
There was no explanation given at the meeting for why it did not appear on the public agenda or what prompted the change of plans in the district.
Pittsburgh Current received a copy of the resolution before the meeting.
But a press release issued at the conclusion of the meeting said COVID numbers released for Allegheny County “this past Friday” prompted the board to consider halting students’ return to school to give after staff the chance to be vaccinated.
In the release, Hamlet said he agreed with the board and that he also took into consideration “the genuine concerns raised by our teachers and staff of returning to school before the vaccine is available to them.”
School director Veronica Edwards was the lone opponent to the resolution.
“I believe the school district of Pittsburgh is not doing our part and we need to pick it up. Our kids have been out of school since March 13, 2020. On April 6, 2021, they will be out of school for one year and that is unacceptable,” Edwards said.
Edwards said she was particularly concerned about African American students whose academic achievement was far behind their white counterparts before the pandemic.
The change of direction follows several about faces in the district’s plans this year.
Two weeks ago, Superintendent Anthony Hamlet held a press conference announcing he planned to start to phase students into an in-person hybrid model on Jan. 27. On Jan. 11, he backed that date up to Feb. 8.
At that time, Hamlet said he expected by Feb. 8 that COVID counts and positivity rates would be declining from any holiday surge.
During yesterday’s board discussion, it didn’t appear that recent reductions in COVID cases or test positivity rates factor into the board’s decision on whether to return students to school.
There was no discussion of what would be considered a safe level of transmission in the county that would prompt some board members to approve a plan to bring students back to school.
During the board discussion, some board members suggested it was wise to wait until enough individuals receive vaccinations and the county reaches a herd immunity status.
The district has plans to partner with UPMC to distribute vaccines to teachers. But board member Cynthia Falls said she has received information that as many as 600 staff members do not want to get the vaccine.
The discussion revolved around logistical issues such as whether there would be enough teachers to staff buildings and adequate transportation for students to get to school.
There were also repeated concerns about the health and safety of staff and students if they are returned to classrooms in the district’s 50-plus buildings.
Board member Pam Harbin said keeping the students learning remotely would provide consistency and that switching to hybrid could cause disruptions. She said 55 percent of schools nationally are currently online.
Harbin complained that neither the state or county provides virus transmission rates in schools. She said 29 other states provide such information.
“I feel like we are trying really hard to make good decisions to keep students and staff safe,” Harbin said.
Edwards suggested Pittsburgh officials meet with leaders from nearby school districts, many of whom have returned students to the classroom in hybrid models.
“Maybe we should just reach out to people who are already effective,” Edwards said.
The board will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday. Individuals who want to provide written testimony must register by calling 412-529-3868 by noon on Monday.