District unveils plan for in-person instruction 4 days a week



Students make their way to the main entrance at Shaler Area High School.

Savannah Schultis and Kiera Harger

Amid the uncertainty that we have experienced throughout this school year and the constant transitions from virtual to hybrid and hybrid to virtual, the Shaler Area School District intends to return to a four-day, in-person school week. The plan is that students in grades K-3 will be returning March 8, students in grades 4-6 will be returning just a week later on March 15 and  students in grades 7-12 will be returning a month later on April 12.

The dates above are subject to change based on the COVID positivity rate within Allegheny County and Shaler Area School District.

Students in cohorts A and B will be combined into one large group, with the at-home option of cohort C still being available. Properly wearing a mask and social distancing when possible will be expected of students and staff.

The School Board has decided for younger students to return to school earlier as they have a different response to COVID and don’t seem to be as harmed by it as severely, in comparison to older students and adults. According to Shaler Area Superintendent Dr. Sean Aiken, the likelihood for transmission among high school students seems to be greater than that of younger students, as they have jobs, athletics/activities, social circles, etc.

Aiken believes that transitioning to four days is most crucial for the younger students.

“It’s probably not as necessary for students at the secondary level, as it really hits our K-4 parents the hardest. They feel the most like, ‘we’re missing something,’” he said.

He also acknowledged one of the issues is the amount of independence a high school student can be given compared to that of a younger student, who most likely needs monitored throughout the school day.

Many Shaler Area families were stunned with this news coming amidst a high school shut down from an inundating amount of positive COVID tests. The optimism comes from the fact that Allegheny County’s numbers continue to decline. However, there are still concerns as to why these numbers are so high in our small community.

“We have more positive cases in our high school than Hampton, Fox Chapel, and North Hills combined,” Aiken said.

Despite having this in mind, Aiken and many other Shaler families want their students back in school. In-person instruction is a priority, but so is the health and safety of staff and students so safety measures are a must.

“I think requiring masking at all times in our schools keeps our students and staff safe,” said Aiken.

The school would continue to maintain it’s deep cleaning strategies while acknowledging it will be impossible for everyone to be six feet apart at all times, especially in the hallways and on buses. The school board believes with proper protocols like masking, outbreaks can be avoided even in these circumstances.

At the high school and middle school, the census reports that families are 50/50 with their opinions on 4-day in person instruction. Most students express they are content with waking up an hour later than usual and not having to experience added pressure or stress in the classroom.

However, one of the benefits of attending 4-day instruction would be socialization. Since Cohorts A and B would be combined, more students would be in each classroom and in the cafeteria to socialize with; something everyone is missing out on nowadays.

“The reality is we still think the best place for students is in school,” Aiken said.