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Superintendent calls district ‘very fortunate’
In March 2020, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic forced all Pennsylvania schools to switch to remote instruction, state Rep. Austin Davis visited Duquesne Education Center to read to pupils. (Courtesy State Rep. Austin Davis)
Despite a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Duquesne City School District finished the 2020-2021 academic year strong and with an optimistic outlook on the year to come.
“We’ve had about 25 [cases] total, it really has been remarkable,” said Sue Mariani, the Duquesne City School District’s superintendent. “We’ve been very, very fortunate. To me, it’s the due diligence of everybody just doing their part to keep everyone safe.”
In March 2020, the district sent each of its 360 students home with either an iPad or a Chromebook, depending on grade level and teacher pedagogy. But while students learned from home, the district’s faculty and staff adopted a proactive mindset regarding the logistics of the months to come.
“I knew someday we were going to come back to the building, and I wanted to make sure that everyone was protected,” said Brian Stowell, facilities director for the Duquesne City School District. “I think one of the biggest things that we did [...] was we sat down and we actually looked at the building and said, ‘how are we going to handle feeding these kids? How are we going to handle bathroom breaks?”
One of the first steps involved reaching out to Enviro-Master Pittsburgh, a commercial cleaning service based in O’Hara Twp. Stowell said the owner of the company personally trained all of the facilities staff on the effective use of microbial sprayers. The district owns two such sprayers, which the facilities team has used regularly to sanitize the entire school building.
The staff also placed “Safe Handle” sleeves on all door handles and access points within the school building.
“They kill all germs for 24 hours, and they’re good for six months,” Stowell said of the Safe Handles. “We put them on at the beginning of the school year. As we went out for Christmas break, we changed them out, and we’ll change them out again as we finish out the school year.”
Other preventative measures included the installation of desk shields, hand sanitizer stations outside of every classroom, and air purifiers inside of each classroom and office. Students also received temperature checks at the start of each day.
“We’re doing every line of protection that we possibly can for every student in this building,” Stowell said.
As in-person instruction resumed, the district employed the use of face masks to assist in mitigating the spread of the virus.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have some really great partners donate masks to us, on top of what we purchased,” Mariani said. “Because of the partnership with Education Partnership and our Allegheny Intermediary Unit, we’ve been able to provide a kid [with] a brand-new mask every single day if they need it.”
According to Mariani, the school building will undergo numerous renovations throughout the summer, including the installation of a new roof, HVAC system, and lighting. The district will partner with the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania to provide activities for its students throughout the warmer weather months.
The school hopes to have students back for full-time in-person learning this fall, but staff are actively meeting with parents and community stakeholders to make informed decisions that keep everyone safe and healthy.
“I think our communication is better, honestly, because of COVID,” Mariani said. “Because of COVID, we have more communication with the parents, and they with us.”
The first day of school is Sept. 1.
Matthew Germaine is a musician and freelance writer in Wilkinsburg. He has previously written for the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty and WGDR/WGDH radio. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published June 22, 2021.