Tensions mount as some Pittsburgh Public parents protest two-week delay and earlier school start times

Parents decry earlier start times, citing health and academic performance. The district says it’s the way to ensure full in-person learning.

by TyLisa C. Johnson, PublicSource

Many Pittsburgh families were circling Aug. 25 on their calendars and stuffing backpacks, looking to soon regain a sense of normalcy. Pittsburgh Public Schools [PPS] would be back in classrooms in school buildings five days a week. COVID concerns still loomed, especially mounting worries about new variants and masking in schools, but back-to-school planning was in full swing.

All of a sudden, there was another disruptive force: a bus driver shortage.

The shortage is not new, though. It has been a focal point in district board meetings for at least six months. The district says nearly 11,000 students would not have rides to and from school under the current conditions. Just last week, district leadership started publicly letting on that it was considering a change in school start and end times to alleviate the transportation challenges. On Saturday, the district posted on its website a proposed schedule, with some schools moving to begin at 7:15 a.m.

Families weren’t notified about the proposal officially until an email update on Tuesday from Superintendent Anthony Hamlet and a robocall, which came the same day Hamlet announced the first day of school would be delayed two weeks to Sept. 8.

Hundreds of district families are now saying enough is enough. They’re fed up with the changes and what they see as a pattern of last-minute communication. Many parents are worried about how the time changes will affect their routines and how young students will travel safely at early hours when it may still be dark. Parents are protesting online, in Facebook groups and petitions, and in person, testifying at board meetings and planning to rally outside the Board of Education building in Oakland at 6 p.m.

The district maintains earlier start times would allow them to transport more students.

District Spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said the early start times aren’t unprecedented, noting that Perry High School’s start time has been 7:08 a.m. for at least the past six years. She said the proposed schedule is a strategy for the district to get as many students to school as possible.

“It’s going to be a shift, and we want to help support as much as we can but it really is about getting all our kids to school,” Pugh said.

The district attributes the school delay to concerns about masks in August heat and the need for more time to recruit and train bus drivers.

The school board will vote on the proposed school calendar changes at a special legislative meeting on Aug. 18. The board will hold a special public hearing on Aug. 16. [Find the school board meeting calendar and public hearing procedures here.]

Oliver Hezel, 8, (center) holds a sign at a protest Wednesday outside the Pittsburgh Public Schools administration building following a recent announcement that the district would delay the start of the school year by two weeks. Alongside Oliver are his siblings Julian, 5, (left) and Peter, 11, (right), as well as his mom Ashley Hezel. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)



Tensions mount as some Pittsburgh Public parents protest two-week delay and earlier school start times


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