By Mary Niederberger
PITTSBURGH — Some 1,700 Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers started training Tuesday so they can provide remote education to the district’s 23,000 students starting on April 16.
That announcement came from the district Monday evening, hours after Gov. Tom Wolf announced the indefinite closing of schools across the state in response to the spread of COVID-19.
The Pittsburgh district, along with all other public schools in Pennsylvania, has been closed by the governor’s previous orders since March 16.
While some local districts have initiated online learning during the closure, Pittsburgh and others have not while awaiting direction from the state.
While student instruction will start In Pittsburgh on April 16, orientation for remote learning and the distribution of materials will take place on April 14 and 15.
Because not all students have access to computers and/or internet service, learning will take place both online and through instructional packets.
“Shifting instruction for 23,000 students from brick and mortar classroom settings to remote at-home learning takes significant planning to meet the instructional needs of all students equitably and effectively. Our blended model of remote learning will ensure we are meeting the varying needs of our students,” Pittsburgh Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said.
The district is attempting to reach as many students as possible through the online lessons.
It is purchasing 5,000 new laptops to add to its current supply of 2,500. The University of Pittsburgh has donated an additional 599 technological devices. However, Hamlet said the district is working to get additional computer devices for students.
“As we anticipate the need of staff and students to surpass our current inventory of one-to-one devices, the support of our partners will be critical,” Hamlet said in a press release. “We are grateful to those who have already reached out to ask, ‘How can I help?’ and look forward to creating partnerships to bridge the digital divide that exists between the haves and have nots.”
Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference, said her organization stands ready to help the Pittsburgh schools to get technology into the hands of students.
In recent weeks the Pittsburgh district has surveyed more than 10,200 students through home technology surveys and from those responding families found that 41 percent do not have a technological device for each child in the family. In addition, 5 percent of families said they did not have internet access.
Those numbers are expected to grow as the district reaches more families.
To get information from hard-to-reach families school employees are making phone calls and surveys are available at Grab and Go meal sites throughout the city. Families can also call 412-529-4357 to request a survey. The survey will close April 1.
Distribution of technology devices will start on April 9 with high school seniors. For students unable to complete work online instructional packets will be made available biweekly at the Gran and Go locations. The district is working on other methods of distribution as well.
Mary Niederberger is a reporter for the Pittsburgh Current, where this story first appeared.