The state updated its guidance earlier this month encouraging schools to get students back in their buildings.By Nicole Ford

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s back to school this week for a number of districts across the area. At the beginning of the month, the state updated its guidance to encourage schools to get students back in the classroom.

“January 19, that’s Tuesday, we are anticipating opening K-5 four days a week,” said Baldwin-Whitehall Superintendent Randy Lutz.

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Lutz told parents on Friday it will be a slow return, grade by grade, to four days a week of in-person learning for the school district.

“We went through each and every classroom to look at the layout for where we are in spacing. We talked about student arrival via car and bus and cafeteria with alternative lunch spaces,” Lutz said.

Lutz said this will be the first time students have been in the classroom four days a week since the end of March. Extra precautions were taken in all elementary schools.

“I feel very confident. Laterally, we made sure there were 6 feet of distance, front to back. If I’m looking at the back of another child’s head, maybe I’m at 4 or 5 feet, but we’ve known from statistics that’s the least likely of the virus transmission,” Lutz said.

As these school leaders prepare, similar changes are happening across the street.

“I have a son who’s a senior who’s 17; a daughter who’s 16, a junior; and a fifth-grader who is 11,” said Andrew Flynn.

Flynn’s three children attend Mt. Lebanon School District. This week, the doors to the middle and high schools will open back up for hybrid learning, but not everyone is choosing to return.

“My two older kids made the choice themselves — we gave them that opportunity — and they decided, given the pandemic and the overall situation, they felt it was the right choice to continue on with the way they are going,” Flynn said.

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For the younger child, Flynn told KDKA hybrid was the best option.

“We felt having that socialization time was important,” Flynn said.

It’s been a roller coaster for school districts on trying to decide the best learning model for the population they serve.

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“It was a little bit of a calculated risk when we decided to go this direction,” Dr. Mark Holtzman said.

Holtzman is the Superintendent for McKeesport School District and has been a cheerleader for in-person instruction. With 75 percent of the student body opting for in-person classes, the doors have stayed open with minimal COVID-19 transmission since September.

“Communication and trust has really been the priority, Holtzman said.

On Monday, he offered some advice to districts planning to head back to the building this week.

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“It’s ‘be patient.’ In our scenario we’ve taken the position ‘don’t panic’ because things are going to come up and you won’t have answers for it,” Holtzman said.