In this monthly column, Pittsburgh District 1 Councilman Bobby Wilson discusses children’s public school options for the fall.
Photo of Pittsburgh’s City Council Chambers by Ashlee Green
This time of year, we parents with school-age children are preparing our families for the start of a new school year. Due to the novel coronavirus, this school year is going to be very different for Northside families. Though a Pittsburgh City Councilman has no official role to play in the decisions made by the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), as a father of three young kids, I firmly believe that how we educate our children affects everything we do in City Hall to make our city a better, fairer, and more livable place.
PPS faces a historic challenge: How do you safely re-open schools at the end of this month for approximately 23,300 students, nearly 2,000 teachers, and about 1,900 full-time staff? As COVID-19 continues raging through southwestern Pennsylvania, PPS launched an “All-In to Reopen Our Schools” campaign to make vital recommendations about this challenge. The central takeaway from these recommendations is the choice between a blended teaching model and a fully online teaching model. In the case of blended instruction, students would be split into two groups and attend classes in person two days a week. Prior to coming to school, these students would receive a symptom screening, wear masks throughout most of the school day, and adhere to social distancing guidelines. The other three days of the week, these students’ classes would be online.
If the recent surge in COVID-19 cases continues to spike, causing schools to be shut down entirely, then PPS would transition all students to the online model. In either case, all PPS education will occur via the online platform Schoology and the district will use Microsoft Teams to communicate virtually with students, teachers, and staff. Whichever model of instruction PPS settles on, its receipt of federal CARES Act dollars has allowed it to promise all students and teachers that they will each receive a computer or iPad on which to attend class and complete their work. If you are a teacher or parent of a PPS student who has not received a device from PPS by the start of this school year, please call 412-529-4357.
There is a great deal of concern that any level of in-person instruction, even if it is just two days a week, risks the health of students, teachers, and their families. There is also a recognition among PPS administrators, educators, and health officials that more time is needed to make a comprehensive plan for reopening schools safely and effectively. Kevin Carter, a PPS board member, recently introduced a resolution to begin the first nine weeks of this school year entirely online. This resolution also would require that PPS develop a backup plan for students’ parents who are essential workers and thus unable to support their child’s remote learning, as well as for special education students who need specific support services and resources to succeed. At the end of July, PPS Superintendent Anthony Hamlet announced, following a unanimous vote by the PPS board, that in-person classes will be delayed for nine weeks at the start of the 2020-2021 school year and PPS would only provide remote online learning.
In the meantime, please feel free to contact my office if you have any other questions, concerns, or stories. You can call my office at 412-255-2135, email us at email@example.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Enjoy the rest of your summer!