First group of Pittsburgh students returns to classrooms for first time in year

PITTSBURGH — For the first time in more than a year, Pittsburgh Public Schools students returned to the classrooms.

Starting Tuesday, about 4,800 pre-school and kindergarten students, as well as students who are struggling with remote learning, will now be going to school two days a week.

“I think it’s good for the kids to get back and interact with each other. It’s good for them to get back with the teacher,” Tieasha Lewis, a parent of a student at Pittsburgh King, said. “Being at school is what’s most important.”

The first task at hand for teachers was be to get students familiar with new routines. Changes while in school include mask wearing, handwashing and social distancing, along with smaller class sizes and regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces. Also, parents are not allowed in the school buildings, so students must be dropped off at the door.

“The mask wearing will be different for them. We’re going to make sure we’re socially distanced in the classrooms,” Nathan Berkowitz, principal at Pittsburgh King, said. “We’re going to be eating breakfast and lunch in the classrooms. We’re not going to do transitions on K-5. Middle school will because they have more classrooms to go to.”

For snack time and lunch, parents can pack something for their children, but everything has to be disposable. Brown bags must be used instead of lunchboxes, and Tupperware is not allowed.

If a child gets sick at school, each building has what’s being called a “cares room.” That’s where the students will be kept, away from other students, until a parent can pick them up.

Another group of students will return to classrooms on April 26, followed by the remaining students on May 3.

>>STORY: New measures will be in place as students return to Pittsburgh Public Schools

On days when students aren’t learning in the classroom, they’ll be online. All students will learn remotely on Wednesdays, which will be a deep-cleaning day at schools.

“I think, unfortunately, we’re going to see increased cases especially among young adults and children,” said AHN internal medicine physician Dr. Marc Itskowitz.

This comes at a time when Allegheny County is dealing with rising numbers of cases among children 12 and younger. The county reported 168 new cases affecting that age bracket since Saturday. That’s the highest number of cases reported for that demographic so far since the outbreak began.

Medical experts believe more contagious variants of the virus are helping fuel the surge in cases.