By Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
School will start for students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools on Aug. 31, three school days later than planned, to allow teachers three additional days of professional development, superintendent Anthony Hamlet announced Tuesday.
Kindergarten students will start on Sept. 3.
Also, the district has added a third educational option for fall– all students learning remotely full-time. Last week district officials presented two plans from which parents could choose: a hybrid plan with some in-school and some remote learning or a 100 percent online education.
But Hamlet said the county’s high number of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks has forced district officials to prepare for the reality that students may not be able to return to school buildings.
Those announcements were made during a Tuesday eveng Facebook live stream of reports from 14 committees composed of more than 300 individuals who met and researched best practices for restarting Pittsburgh schools in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The full list of 407 recommendations will be available on the district’s website on Wednesday evening.
Most of the discussion during the 90-minute Livestream session was about ensuring the safety of students, staff and community members and finding the best ways to make sure all academics and additional services, particularly those to vulnerable groups, can best be delivered.
The district will continue to work on its plans and officials stressed that as circumstances involving the virus and state and federal mandates and directives change, the district’s plans are also likely to change.
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visgitis, who was among those who served on committees, repeatedly stressed safety as a priority in all of the plans.
If students are able to return to school buildings, those choosing a hybrid plan would likely attend on what the district is calling an AA/BB schedule.
That means students in the first cohort would attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays and learn remotely on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The second cohort would attend school on Thursdays and Fridays and learn remotely on Monday Tuesday and Wednesdays. School buildings would be cleaned on Wednesdays.
All students and staff would wear masks and practice social distancing. On school buses students will sit one to a seat in assigned seats.
No in-school instruction will be held at the gifted center. Instead instruction will be held virtually.
The district has chosen Schoology as its online learning platform though Microsoft Teams will be used for some communication.
Teachers will receive six days of professional development on the platforms and to learn safety protocols.
Officials described the difference between the remote learning that took place this spring, that included a mixture of online lessons and paper packets, and what can be expected in the fall. Online learning in the fall will include synchronous learning with real-time interaction with teachers that follows a school-day schedule.
Every student will have a computer device and internet access.
Students’ participation in online instruction and discussion will be factored into their course grades.
Families should expect to receive notices in mid-August regarding their children’s teacher and homeroom assignments as they do every year, said David May-Stein, chief of school performance.
May-Stein said the district is currently working on a “re-entry plan” for athletics. Those plans would include social distancing, wearing proper protective equipment and “constant sanitizing.”
The district used federal CARES Act funding to purchase 2,000 laptops for teachers, said Ted Dwyer, chief of data, research, evaluation and assessment. Computers have been ordered for all students in grades 2-12 and as they arrive, will be distributed first to those who have no computer access, Dwyer said. Ipads have been ordered for students in Pre-K and first grade.
“The intention is to get them to students as soon as possible, hopefully before school starts,” Dwyer said.
The board will adopt its safety plan to be sent to the state Department of Education at its July 22 legislative session.
A final recommendation for the start of school will be presented at the board’s Aug. 4 meeting.
Hamlet said the top priority in whatever final plans are approved is safety.
“We are invested in the health and safety of students, faculty, and the community. We’ll make decisions based on what keeps people safe,” Hamlet said. “That’s paramount. That’s number one.”