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Coalition Works to Help Pittsburgh Restart In-Person Classes

The Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative, a coalition of more than 70 groups and individuals, seeks transparency in plans for a return to in-person instruction so the community can help it work toward specific goals.

by Andrew Goldstein, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / December 15, 2020
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(TNS) — A coalition of education equity advocates wants to know what it will take for the Pittsburgh Public Schools to consider reopening as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative, a coalition of more than 70 groups and individuals, seeks transparency from the district in its plans for a return to in-person instruction so the community can help it work toward specific goals.

"Is a 5% positivity rate threshold your target? Will there be a phased in approach to in-person learning starting with younger and more at-risk learners? Is the internet bandwidth sufficient at schools for teachers and students to be able to participate online? If not, is there anything the community can do to help fix that problem?" said  James Fogarty , executive director of the organization A+ Schools, which spearheads the collaborative.

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Mr. Fogarty  was among several members of the collaborative who addressed the school board during a community comment session Monday evening. They noted that data suggests schools have not contributed to the spread of the pandemic in the United States. They also raised concerns about student achievement as well as the social and emotional well-being of children.

Maria Cohen , executive director of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, said the district should allow some students — specifically elementary school students and those with disabilities — to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

"Families with elementary school students face serious challenges if we continue online learning for the rest of the school year," she said. "It is a burden for families with working parents to support young students with their online learning. Students are falling behind at astronomical rates, and parents are struggling to hold everything together."

Another member of the coalition, Dr. Braveen Ragunanthan, encouraged the district to think ahead.

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The pediatrician said the district should rally members of the school community to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

"We need to start planning for our next steps proactively in 2021," Dr. Ragunanthan said. "Furthermore, adult unmasked gatherings have always been the drivers of this pandemic — not schools. Thus, a key strategy for us will be PPS having an aggressive campaign encouraging PPS staff and our PPS parents and adult family members to all get vaccinated to be protected from COVID-19 in 2021."

In the meantime, the coalition asked the district to set aside $2 million to support beyond the end of the year the learning hubs that hundreds of city students have attended during the fall semester. The $2 million would ensure that the hubs can operate into early 2021.

The 24 learning hubs with 64 locations across Pittsburgh and Allegheny County serve about 700 city school students and are funded by the county and community organizations.

Many students who attend the hubs have parents who are essential workers and can't stay home to help with schooling. The huPropertiesbs give those families a place where their children can be cared for and have some assistance during the school day.

"They have a role to play in maintaining and keeping our economy going, feeding us,"  Mr. Fogarty  said. "And so we want to make sure that those families are taken care of."

(c)2020 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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