The district wants an incident rate below 100 and the positivity rate below 10% for Allegheny County before allowing students back into school buildings.By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh Public School administrators say they are waiting to see if there’s a spike in COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County from the holiday break before deciding whether to begin opening schools at the start of the second semester, Jan. 27.

Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet and partners announced in a press conference Tuesday on Zoom that they have multiple strategies that they’re working on to improve the education in Pittsburgh schools, both now and for the next five years.

Ten months after Pittsburgh Public Schools started distributing laptops and iPads to students, PPS now has enough for every student and will distribute the last devices by the end of this month. Dr. Hamlet said the delay was due to supply and demand.

“Nobody expected this,” Hamlet said. “With every school district, the majority of schools around the nation, trying to scramble to get devices for their students and also the business community as well, all of that in totality.”

It looks like students will need the devices because the district wants an incidence rate below 100 and the positivity rate below 10% for Allegheny County before allowing students back into school buildings.

It’s possible that kids may not return at all this school year.

“That’s a possibility,” Dr. Hamlet said. “We are trying to get back as soon as possible but, again, making sure that we make those decisions that are safe for our teachers and students. … We can’t forecast what’s going to happen, but we do know that there’s going to be a holiday spike coming soon.”

If students do go back this school year, special education students and those struggling will go first. A month after that, the majority of students could return, meaning late February or early March at the earliest.

When students do return, Dr. Hamlet says a new task force studying racial inequities will make sure the racial divide is closing.

“Our district will not bring back Black students to live and learn in the same racially-biased environment that they left a year ago. We will no longer set up Black students to fail,” Hamlet said.

Dr. Hamlet says the task force is studying suspension and arrest rates and working to change the system to help all kids succeed.

He also says he wants to form another task force to help with the academic gap that is happening right now because of remote learning. He wants to look at ways to help with learning loss, including the possibility of summer school.

Kristine Sorensen