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Re-opening successfully: tips from PA public school system open since Sept.

Posted at 7:07 PM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 19:08:18-05

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — With increased pressure from families and state officials, Maryland public school systems are trying to figure out how to bring students back in person safely by Gov. Larry Hogan's March deadline. This is all while private schools and public systems in Pennsylvania have been open since September.

Franklin Regional School District in the suburbs of Pittsburgh is just one of many public school systems in PA that has offered in-person learning opportunities since September, with the exception of weeks around the holidays.

Dr. Gennaro piraino set out to accomplish for this school year. To give every student the choice about their education.

"We knew that we had to provide an environment that was really conducive to the needs to the families," said Superintendent Dr. Gennaro Piraino.

For K through 8 students, they decided to offer 5 days in-person, hybrid and all virtual models, and hybrid or virtual for high school.

"Then we began to tailor this by determining which staff members based up on their skill set and interest were going to teach the hybrid classes," said Piraino. "It’s a lot of work. We had to hire additional teachers to support that. We had to purchase additional technology."

Students chose at the beginning of the school year, and one third opted to stay virtual.

Since September, they’ve had 57 cases but none that they could confirm were from in school transmission.

Per the Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines based on size and number of cases in a two-week period, they had to shut down one elementary school for three days last month and a high school for two days this week, during which time the building gets cleaned and contact tracing occurs.

"Because we have the 6-feet of distance and the masks, our need to quarantine is very minimal for most cases so that has really helped us stay open," said Piraino.

Being a regional school district with only five schools and 3,200 students, they had more flexibility than Maryland public school systems, and it helped them tailor tier approach.

"When you’re larger, you have to figure out a way to make it personal and it’s quite a challenge that I feel fortunate I don’t have to tackle," said Piraino.

But they still had to tackle the same safety concerns, so his advice to county school systems, aside from requiring masks and social distancing, is to take a regional approach instead of a holistic one.

"No two schools are the same. Look at each school individually and look at each community individually and then begin to tailor that response or that plan based upon the needs of that community," said Piraino.

Hogan is providing $20 million in COVID-19 relief funding for education, including grants for schools or systems that come up with a unique approach to address academic accessibility.