Cincinnati Public Schools switch to all-remote learning start to academic year

Updated: Aug. 4, 2020 at 6:11 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Cincinnati Public School District students will begin the upcoming school year with all-remote learning for at least the first five weeks.

The school board agreed to the change Monday following a recommendation from Superintendent Laura Mitchell.

Now the district’s in-person start date will be Sept. 28 — and that only if the community’s health status improves, according to a CPS presentation slide.

The district will review data Sept. 14 to determine if the Sept. 28 start date should continue or if they will return to their original blended-learning plan.

School leaders will consider:

  • A sustained daily decline in new confirmed cases;
  • A positivity rate, or percent of people tested who return positive results, that is equal to or less than 5 percent;
  • A yellow or orange level for Hamilton County as part of the State of Ohio’s Public Health Advisory System.

“Distance learning is not how students, families, or staff hoped to start the year. We all know that in-classroom learning is best for most students academically, socially, and emotionally,” the superintendent said.

“While we have seen early signs of improvement, current transmission and positivity rates are too high to ensure the safety of our students and staff. We hope with the commitment of the community to further reduce the spread of the virus, and sustain that reduction, we will see our students in our buildings on September 28.

“We are prepared for all learning models – distance, blended, and fully in person – and know we must all be agile and flexible during the 2020-2021 academic year.”

According to a district release, all students pre-K through 12 will have CPS-provided devices. Students in grades pre-K through 1 will receive an iPad, while older students will receive laptops.

Additionally, CPS and Cincinnati Bell are partnering on a project called “Connect our Students” that ensures all students have access to Wi-Fi connectivity. The district says the program provides free internet for a year for students and households who need it, covering an estimated 11,000 households.

Mitchell’s recommendation came during a Monday meeting of the Board of Education. The board accepted the recommendation unanimously without holding a formal vote, thus giving Mitchell the “go-ahead” to adopt the remote learning start.

The board reasoned it had already given Mitchell the power to change the original plan at a previous board meeting.

A teacher protest took place outside the meeting, though Cincinnati Federation of Teachers President Julie Sellers said in a statement Monday afternoon the protest was not a CFT sponsored event:

“We do not encourage our members to gather in a large group and engage in activities that could be dangerous to the health of participants and undermine our message to the Board, or our partnerships with parents,” Sellers said. “We are working together with CPS to find the safest options as we start a new school year. We have encouraged all our members to stay home and tune into the Board meeting remotely tonight.”

The district’s original reopening plan was announced at the end of June.

The plan features students learning in-person at CPS facilities a total of five days over two weeks. The students will rotate schedules such that one week they will be in school three days and alternating weeks for two days, with remote learning taking place otherwise.

Fully remote learning will also be offered to students as an alternative.

Upon releasing the plan, CPS said the so-called blended learning format will allow for more social distancing inside school buildings but acknowledged the format’s downsides, including the cost to parents of having to stay home or find childcare while their children learn remotely.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said publicly in early July he believes CPS students should return to classes for full five-day schedules.

Several weeks later the CFT began urging the district to rethink bringing students back to school at all.

“We feel like the only way that it is safe for our students, teachers, and make sure our community is not impacted by opening up too soon, we should start virtually,” Sellers said.

When the district announced its plan at the end of June, followed closely by the mayor’s comments, it appeared as if Cincinnati had averted a COVID-19 surge. As July progressed, however, cases in the city climbed, and that was the setting in which the teachers’ union began making its appeal.

Cincinnati has still not seen a surge the likes of which New York — or even Cleveland — faced in the beginning of the pandemic, and what surge the city did see in July appears to have subsided based on last week’s case plateau and stable hospitalization rates.

But as Monday’s decision shows, the district board prefers to wait for more data to come in before returning to in-person classes.

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