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CPS Board split on remote learning as staff absences approach 400

The plan is expected to be brought up at next Monday’s meeting.
Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 5:21 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (FOX19/Enquirer) - The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education on Monday night tabled an administration plan that would have begun 2022 with remote learning.

The board meeting came hours after news broke that more than 300 CPS employees—388 at the time of the meeting—were out with COVID.

The employee absences were partially covered by the district’s central office staff and substitutes, Cincinnati Federation of Teacher President Julie Sellers told the Enquirer. Even then, it wasn’t enough.

“It’s a real crisis,” Sellers said. “It’s not sustainable to have safe staffing.”

Per the remote learning plan, students and staff would have used Jan. 5 to take home devices and other materials. Remote learning would have begun Jan. 6.

The plan envisioned students returning Jan. 18, though that return would have been contingent on the staff absence rate and the level of community spread of the virus.

“If we don’t shut down for this pandemic, the pandemic is going to shut us down,” board member Mike Moroski argued.

He continued: “We had 11 schools that should not or could not have been opened today. We have to make this decision.”

But the board was split on the plan, and the meeting adjourned without a decision. Several board members vowed to resume debate on the plan at next Monday’s meeting.

By then, things could be much different.

A Cincinnati Health Department estimate that cases in the city are doubling every three days. But the omicron variant, which data show is outcompeting the delta variant in the US, is widely expected to burn itself out sometime in January due to its high transmissibility.

>> OMICRON: Kentucky’s highest positivity rate skyrockets | Ohio hospitalizations climb to new record high

Other considerations appear to be weighing on officials in the Biden Administration.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Sunday, per CNN, the administration’s goal remains that all schools reopen for in-person learning, saying the students have “suffered enough.”

But Cardona also expressed understanding with “bumps in the road” as districts work through significant staffing shortages.

CPS is one of those districts.

Sellers says staff cases of COVID-19 are currently at similar levels to the days after Thanksgiving 2020 when the district went remote for more than two months.

She explains under normal conditions substitute teachers can fill about 60 percent of the call-ins for the district. On Monday that rate had fallen to 37 percent.

Across Ohio, districts are making last-minute changes. Cleveland Metro announced late last week it would go remote, according to Cleveland.com.

The superintendent of Nordonia Hills School District in Summit County announced Sunday it was extending winter break at an elementary due to COVID-19′s effects on staffing. He said he expected the school to only be closed Monday but later announced that would extend to Tuesday.

Columbus City Schools also “transitioned” ten schools in the district to remote learning Monday due to a high number of staff absences. On Monday at 4:30 p.m., the district website did not have any news about how classes would be continuing at those schools.

Melissa Cropper is the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. She said districts in the state should have been more prepared.

“Going into the holiday break, omicron was on the rise,” Cropper said. “It’s disappointing to me that schools didn’t make a decision prior to the break to take an extra week.”

She said this could have given parents more time to prepare.

“We absolutely firmly believe that the best education for students is face to face with their teacher,” Cropper said. “We also have to understand that just being in school is not necessarily good education if half the staff is absent.”

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