The Pittsburgh Board of Education Unanimously Approves Revised COVID-19 Plan, Drops Mask Mandate


Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette

PPS students returning to school in the fall of 2021.

On April 27, 2022, the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Directors voted to approve a new and revised Health and Safety Plan, originally required by law through the American Rescue Plan, according to the PA Education Department. The plan lays out the school district’s COVID-19 policy, and how the district is combatting the virus in schools. The vote was 9 to 0.

The Board had modified parts of the plan from its enactment in July 2020 through March 2022. This latest modification has drawn massive attention. The district policy classifies mask requirements based on total community cases, and transmission levels—dividing the status into three levels. The first level allows for mask-optional during their designated-low COVID-19 community level. If case rates remain low, the district will stay in the low level, while if cases are on a rise, it will enter the high level. The three levels are accounted for through the Allegheny County Health Department’s guidance. Board Member Jamie Piotrowsi, of District 7, laid a final amendment to the plan, changing the medium community level to a mask requirement. Ms. Piotrowsi’s amendment passed. 

Pittsburgh Public Schools had gone two months without enacting a new mask strategy, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made their recommendation to make mask usage optional in schools across the United States. 

The modified Health and Safety Plan also affirms the district’s policy to continue providing vaccination opportunities, expanding testing capacity, and requiring pool tests for those involved in performing arts.

The Health and Safety Plan would have designated the Superintendent with the authority to alter the PPS COVID-19 Decision Tree, which outlines the district’s regulations for those who experience symptoms or close contacts. But Board Member Pam Harbin, who serves District 3 (which includes Allderdice), introduced an amendment that alters the Superintendent’s authority and requires any changes to the Decision Tree be approved by the Board of Education with “public comment.”

Harbin’s amendment was met with criticism and frustration from Board Member Gene Walker (District 9) saying that “Dr. Walters and his team” should have the authority. Harbin’s amendment was approved to the final language of the plan.

Ira Weiss, who is the Solicitor of the Board, said the proposal would take “effect immediately.” Harbin urged that the school administrations have time to prepare and properly inform their school communities of the changes. In opposition, some Board members said that all schools are “prepared and watching us to make the decision,” in regards to when the new procedures would take effect.

The quarantine regulations change particularly whether a person is vaccinated or unvaccinated, according to COVID-19 Decision Tree.

PPS district officials said the mask mandate lift would begin next week. Allderdice School administration announced Wednesday night that the new mask rules would be effective next week but in the meantime “students and staff should continue to wear masks until more information is released.” 

However, Superintendent Dr. Wayne Walters surprised some by announcing Thursday night that the lift would become effective on Friday, April 29.