From virtual to in-person: How schools are making decisions on where students learn

From virtual to in-person: How schools are making the decisions on where students learn

PITTSBURGH — From one school district to the next, the plans in place are, for the most part, anything but identical.

Channel 11 reached out to a handful of districts to find out what they’re basing their decisions on, and if they’d like to see more or less feedback from Harrisburg.

“None of us were trained for this type of thing, and we are certainly trying to learn as quickly as we can,” said Penn Hills superintendent Dr. Nancy Hines.

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Hines said there’s no crystal ball when it comes to making decisions on how students should learn this year, but the more communication the better.

“We have levels of support that I don’t think other counties have. Namely, that includes the opportunity at least every Thursday to convene as a group of superintendents in Allegheny County, and that’s facilitated by our Allegheny intermediate unit. And on those calls we have at least one member from the Allegheny County health department,” Hines said.

Right now, Penn Hills is providing online and in-person learning. Dr. Hines said they’ve been lucky with only a few cases so far this year, but they’re always ready to make difficult decisions if need be.

We also reached out to the North Allegheny School District.

The district announced Wednesday that it is moving to remote learning starting Monday and lasting through Jan. 18.

In a letter to parents, the district’s superintendent said the decision was made by the North Allegheny Board of School Directors and administration as COVID-19 cases rise.

“Our goal this year has been to maximize in-person learning opportunities for our students while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. At this time, that goal is not sustainable and we realize the changing phases of instruction is difficult for all,” the letter said.

As of Wednesday, only the high school is fully remote, middle schools are hybrid and elementary students just returned to full in-person learning this week.

The North Allegheny Cyber Academy schedule will continue as planned.

Since the health department has said it does not appear that the spread is coming from schools, we asked the superintendent’s office why the decision was made to move to online learning.

The acting superintendent wasn’t available for comment, but his office did cite many variables that went into this decision including a lack of bus drivers, teacher absences and lack of custodial staff.

But here’s the big question — how much of a role should Harrisburg play in making decisions for school districts across the state?

“I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong answer, I don’t know that somebody in Harrisburg can tell me what’s needed in this moment in the Penn Hills School District,” Hines said.

When it comes to guidance for school staff, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Board of Education are working closely, according to the president of the federation.

Right now, she says their main focus is that educators receive the most accurate information about the vaccine and feel confident in taking it. In a statement, union president Nina Esposito Visgitus said,

“Dr. Hamlet and I have agreed to be the first in line to take the vaccine to demonstrate our confidence in its safety and effectiveness.”

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