In class or online: Pittsburgh parents can choose how their kids go back to school

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet hands out a laptop to a student earlier this year. (Photo: Pittsburgh Public Schools via The Pittsburgh Current)

By Mary Niederberger

PITTSBURGH — Parents in the Pittsburgh Public Schools can choose whether they want their students to attend a hybrid schedule with some in-school and some remote learning, or opt for a 100 percent online education.

That announcement was made Thursday by district officials as they updated their back to school plans in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

District officials said by the start of school Aug. 26, all students from preschool through grade 12 will have personal technology devices that are age-appropriate and all district teachers will have devices as well.

Parents who want to choose the 100 percent online system should let the district know as soon as possible. Parents can notify the district via its website.

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said he understands that by not opening schools fully he risks the loss of federal funding — a threat made by President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

Education official: Part-time schedules, small groups best way to reduce COVID-19 transmission when schools reopen

But Hamlet said he, the board and administration plan to do what is safest for students, staff and families in the district.

Hamlet said he hopes the withholding of federal funds does not come to pass and if it does it will be unprecedented. The superintendent said federal money accounts for about 7-11 percent of the district’s $625 million budget.

He said district finance staff is now working on the financial specifics of that to present to the board.

Despite the potential financial loss, Hamlet said the risk to families is too great to force all children into the classroom, noting that some students live with their grandparents, a group that is especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“Ultimately what happens is you have students who come to school and they go home and they live with their grandparents. They could potentially expose their grandparents,” Hamlet said.

For families who choose to have their children attend school, CDC guidelines about social distancing make it impossible for all students to be in school buildings at the same time so the district, working along with a group of more than 300 community volunteers and experts, are working on plans for a hybrid system.

“Everyday students will not be in the classroom,” chief of staff Errika Fearbry Jones asid. Some of the remote learning will be synchronous, with teachers in real time, and some will be independent work.

More details on that hybrid system will be made available via an online presentation to the public on July 14.

Social distancing will also take place on school buses.

Pam Capretta, chief operations officer, said students will be instructed to sit one to a seat and that the district is currently drafting its bus routes to allow for that. In addition, the district is providing bus companies with disinfectant and cleaning solutions and the mechanisms to use them such as spray bottles.

The district is also purchasing disinfectant and cleaning solutions for classrooms and musical equipment and three-sided desk shields for when teachers need to meet with students one-on-one in the classroom.

It is also purchasing personal protective equipment for students and staff including gloves, masks and sanitizers, Capretta sa

The board will vote on July 22 on the safety plan for reopening that it will send to the state for approval.

Mary Niederberger is a reporter for the Pittsburgh Current, where this story first appeared