Cincinnati Public considering year-round school, one school visit a week, other ideas

Cincinnati Public School leaders are considering dramatic changes to education, such as year-round school, one visit to school per student per week or staggered scheduling to reduce the number of students in school at once.

The coronavirus, which led to a statewide closure of schools in March, will continue to affect education in the fall, said Superintendent Laura Mitchell last week during a forum hosted by Community Economic Advancement Initiatives

With the possibility that social distancing continues, CPS officials are forced to plan for “totally disrupting the system and not going back to the status quo,” she said. 

The ideas are not finalized but shed light on the possible changes to education when schools reopen.

Based on research and guidance from health experts, Mitchell said CPS is considering three options, though more ideas may be considered.

The first option would have each student come to school one day per week, but not all at once. While at school, students would receive in-person instruction. During the other four weekdays, they would work from home.

With schools across the United States closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, many wonder what will happen in the fall. According to HuffPost, many educators and experts are speculating that school may look a lot different. Some districts are considering masks for all students and teachers as a safety precaution. Experts say a staggered schedule or even alternating days may be the new normal for kids around the globe. New York City’s education chancellor has said there’s a 50/50 chance that the Big Apple’s schools will reopen in the fall. While no one is sure what to expect, experts around the world agree school will look very different from what we’re used to. Wochit

The district aims to provide laptops to all second-grade and older students who still need one by September. 

The second option would involve half the students reporting to school on Monday and Tuesday, and the other half on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would serve as a cleaning day without students in buildings.

The third option would split school days in two, with half of students coming to school in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.

With all options, CPS is developing a “rapid closure process” in the event of an outbreak.

“We’ve already been told by health care professionals that when flu season hits, they anticipate that we will be closing again,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell added that the district may implement year-round school, which could allow the district to better compensate for potential gaps in learning due to closures. However, doing so would be expensive, Mitchell said, pointing to the recent state education cuts as a hindrance.

The district plans to hire additional social workers to conduct more wellness checks next school year.

CPS is working with partners to expand access to WiFi to all students not yet connected, Mitchell said. The cost to the district to provide hotspots directly would run in the millions, she added, which “did not seem reasonable” for the district to independently fund.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

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Temperature checks of students may take place before students board school buses. Social distancing on buses could limit their capacity, and CPS already runs 1,500 routes each morning. 

Mitchell said the district may reallocate staff to allow for an official to be on every school bus, whose job will be to provide masks, take temperatures and call parents if a student has a fever. Creating such roles could create new costs to the district’s budget.

“We’re thinking about what happens from the time the kid leaves their home, til they get to the school, every hour of the day, until they get back home,” Mitchell said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance this week for stemming the spread of COVID-19.

The guidance includes the following considerations for schools:

  • Face coverings worn by staff and students (particularly older students) as feasible, excluding children under 2.
  • Avoid student sharing of electronic devices, toys, books, other learning aids.
  • Pursue virtual activities and events in lieu of field trips, assemblies, special performances and school-wide parent meetings.
  • Encourage students to bring own water and minimize use of water fountains.
  • Space seats 6 feet apart; desks should face same direction.
  • Close playgrounds and shared dining halls if possible.
  • Have children bring own meals if possible; serve individually plated meals in classrooms. Use disposable food service items.
  • Form students into groups and limit interactions between different groups.
  • Offer options to limit the likelihood of exposure to staff and students at higher risk for severe illness.

On Tuesday, state senators weighed in and heard from education groups and teachers unions about reopening schools.

Reopening schools will require additional resources and flexibility for schools, Will Schwartz, deputy director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, told the Finance Committee.

One added expense Schwartz cited was transportation. To maintain social distancing, a school bus with a capacity of 60 students shrinks to 10, requiring more buses, more fuel and more drivers.

Union representatives for teachers and staff focused on safety.

Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, told lawmakers about the need for personal protection equipment like masks, daily temperature checks, sanitization of desks and computers between classes, reduced class sizes of 12 to 15 students and staggered arrival times and lunch periods to promote social distancing,

Columbus schools Superintendent Talisa Dixon submitted written testimony expressing concern about further cuts in state funding as the district weighs options for the upcoming school year. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently ordered $300 million in cuts in aid to schools for the budget year ending June 30 because of a shortfall in state revenues. More cuts are possible starting July 1.

“…we cannot see additional cuts,” Dixon wrote, citing new costs from the pandemic.

Ultimately the decision on how to reopen K-12 schools will be made by local school district officials in consultation with their local health departments. That likely means school will be operating very differently across the state’s 600-plus school districts.

Education groups told lawmakers they also are concerned about ongoing inequities and disparities among poor and minority students that have long impacted their education and exacerbated by online learning.

The crisis, said Kevin Miller, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, “uncovered some incredible disparities from school district to school district.” In some districts, every student has a laptop at home and could connect to online classes; in other districts many do not.

“How do you do remote learning when students do not have the same access to resources?” Cropper asked.

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