CPS board votes to go fully remote due to staffing issues

Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 9:46 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education voted Monday night to go fully remote for the next two weeks.

All CPS students will learn remotely beginning Wednesday through Jan. 24, a period of seven school days due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In-person learning will only resume, however, if staffing levels are sufficient to safely reopen schools, the district says.

Board member Eve Bolton was the lone “no” vote.

Cincinnati Public Schools remote learning timetable.
Cincinnati Public Schools remote learning timetable.(Cincinnati Public Schools)

The plan for district-wide remote learning comes as omicron continues to spread in the Cincinnati region, though the board members made it clear that staffing issues, not safety concerns, prompted their votes.

“Shifting to remote learning is a choice of last resort,” CPS interim Superintendent Tianay Amat said.

Last Monday, board members failed to agree on a plan presented by the district administration to go remote for two weeks Jan. 6-18. The inaction irked parents and board members alike.

At the time, nearly 400 CPS staff were reported absent.

Days later, CPS adopted an informal rubric to determine the need for remote learning on a school-by-school basis. By then, staff absences had risen to 786, or 19 percent of all CPS staff.

In November 2020, CPS shifted to district-wide remote learning with 780 staff absences.

Per the rubric, schools that could fill staff absences either by using available subs and central office personnel or by consolidating classrooms were put on a “watch list.” In as little as a day’s time, if the situation worsened, the school wouljd go remote.

The situation had bus drivers and temporary employees filing in security roles, parents covering lunch and recess duty and teachers pulled from planning periods to cover other classrooms.

The district called the situation “unsustainable” and said it was having “an increasingly negative impact on district-wide operations.”

Eight schools began remote learning last week. Eight more were placed on the watch list and would have gone remote Friday had CPS not canceled all classes due to winter weather.

Around 10,000 CPS parents responded last week to a survey on remote learning. Some 53 percent preferred a short-term district-wide remote-learning plan over the school-by-school plan currently in place.

Some 55 percent of the 1,250 students and 68 percent of the 3,100 CPS staff who responded to the survey preferred the district-wide remote-learning plan as well.

‘Time is the reset’

It became increasingly clear during the board’s meeting Monday night that omicron by itself was no justification for remote learning.

Doctors from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center spoke to that reality. In a presentation, they advocated for strategies proven to work against prior variants—masking, distancing, vaccines, isolation, quarantines—while at the same time acknowledging omicron as more or less “inevitable.”

That’s not to say the situation in the region isn’t serious. Greater Cincinnati hospitalizations are approaching record levels, and staffs are stretched thin, said UC Department of Pediatrics Director Dr Robert Kahn.

According to our media partners at the Enquirer, one in three COVID tests are coming back positive in the region. In Northern Kentucky, ICU bed utilization is maxed out.

The surge isn’t over yet, either. Doctors presented data showing Cincinnati is around 2-3 weeks behind Cleveland in its omicron surge, meaning the Tri-State has another few weeks of rising cases before it sees Cleveland’s plateau and decline. (See chart below)

But the doctors provided little in the way of empirical or anecdotal evidence that remote learning would be a safer alternative to classroom learning.

Board members posed the matter to Kahn, asking specifically whether a staff “reset” in either a hospital or educational setting would help.

“Time is the reset,” Kahn answered. “[…]Omicron will get through the circles it gets through.”

Later Kahn added, “There is no evidence that closing [schools] in this environment is the right answer to help contain the spread.”

Cincinnati Children’s Chief of Staff Dr. Patty Manning said much the same.

“I think going virtual in a school setting would not necessarily mitigate spread because [omicron] is just so infectious,” she remarked, adding the region just has to “get through the next few weeks.”

Part of the merit in a full remote-learning plan, according to the district, is it will provide the sort of logistical refresh needed to lure substitutes back to the classroom.

Several board members cast doubt on that premise, relying on the doctors’ testimony that staff are as likely—perhaps more likely—to catch the variant out in the community as in a classroom setting.

But none of the board members who voted for the plan could look past the present staffing shortages, which they argued created safety issues of their own.

Other board members said they felt beholden to the wisdom of the 53 percent of survey respondents with children in the district who said they preferred the full remote-learning plan.

Many other Tri-State school districts opted for remote learning last week, including Mt. Healthy, Lockland, Newport, Winton Woods, New RIchmond, Covington, and Dayton.

The University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University are also on remote learning plans to start the spring semester.

The omicron curves of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland
The omicron curves of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland(Cincinnati Children's Hospital)

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