Pittsburgh Public Schools plan phased return to in-person classes in April

Tawnya Panizzi, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·3 min read

Feb. 23—Pittsburgh Public Schools are planning a phased return of students to the classroom beginning April 6, with the first spots reserved for the youngest learners and those who are struggling with online learning.

The district late Monday announced student-support categories ahead of in-person instruction.

The categories are based on students' needs as well as a survey to assess families' comfort level and desire for in-person hybrid learning. There are about 4,800 students identified for the earliest return date, officials said.

Surveys will start going out to families this week.

"With a semester's worth of data, we are now able to equitably identify our students who are struggling the most to make progress in eLearning," Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said. "While we long for the day when we can reopen our school buildings for all students, to ensure safe and healthy school communities we must prioritize those students with the highest need for the return to in-person instruction in a hybrid model."

Students will be assigned to categories based on several factors that include attendance, performance data in math and English Language Arts and social-emotional learning strengths.

Criteria was established by the district to identify students who are struggling most, officials said.

Categories will range from No. 1, with students who show positive progress with virtual learning, to No. 4, which includes those who are not doing well with online education and/or who are enrolled in kindergarten or pre-kindergarten.

PPS officials said 4,786 students were identified as Support Category 4, which indicates they are not succeeding with online learning and will be prioritized for in-person learning to begin on April 6. This group also includes pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.

Another 5,215 students in Support Category 3 will follow on April 26.

Students in these two categories will follow a hybrid schedule, either in classrooms on Mondays and Tuesdays, or Thursdays and Fridays.

Wednesdays are an at-home day while buildings are cleaned and disinfected.

Students at Pittsburgh Pioneer and Pittsburgh Conroy will attend four days a week.

The district has not yet set a date for the 7,136 in Category 2 or the 3,085 students in Category 1.

Those plans will be evaluated based on social distancing guidelines and the number of families who decide to remain in remote instruction.

Families will be notified of their student's support category by early March.

The district's announcement follows CDC guidelines that include five mitigation strategies expected to reduce covid-19 transmission in school buildings. They are mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand-washing, cleaning facilities and contact tracing in combination with quarantine.

The board is expected this week to approve the purchase of 220 Medify HEPA Air Purifiers, along with 220 replacement filters for placement throughout the district.

"Since March 2020, we have logged thousands upon thousands of un-budgeted hours to plan and prepare the district's classrooms, buildings and structures to support the return to in-person learning," Interim Chief of Operations Mike McNamara said. "We have made it our mission to protect our staff and students and meet the criteria from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pennsylvania Department of Health."

The CDC guidelines say that teacher vaccination should not be the threshold for reopening schools. Hamlet said the district is working with health care partners to schedule vaccinations for teachers as quickly as possible.

He said it is unrealistic to continue to postpone the reopening of schools until all teachers are vaccinated.

"Our district meets and exceeds the mitigation strategies that were released by the CDC," Hamlet said.

"We are ready to welcome our students back in a hybrid approach, when schools are scheduled to open April 6."

The district posts a covid-19 dashboard that summarizes cases among students and staff. There have been 73 cases across the district since Nov. 9.

The dashboard is updated Mondays at pghschools.org/coviddashboard.

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 412-782-2121 x1512, tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter .