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From 'Excited' To 'Nerve-Racking': How CPS Students Feel About Returning To The Classroom

High schoolers will begin transitioning back to classrooms across Cincinnati Public Schools this week. While some students are excited to return, others have concerns.

Over the weekend, some drove in a caravan protest outside of the CPS' Education Center opposing the district's return to school plan. A group of counter protesters also made their voices heard, demanding CPS hold classes in-person five days a week.

Credit Cory Sharber / WVXU

This back-and-forth debate has been taking place since the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to switch to remote learning last year. One month ago, the CPS school board elected to transition the district to blended learning. The decision was made when Cincinnati was averaging roughly 66 new COVID-19 cases per day, well above the district's previously agreed upon bar for a safe return of 40 cases per day.

Students, parents and teachers have voiced concerns about the return plan since, mostly surrounding the plan to hold classes at Walnut Hills High School with three feet of social distancing. That's less than the six feet recommended by the CDC. Anna Schlosser is a junior at the school and has a heart condition, as well as a connective tissue disorder making her high risk for contracting COVID-19. She says she hopes Walnut stays remote for the rest of the year.

"We've been doing one thing for, like, almost three quarters,” Schlosser said. "I think just risking so many lives to go back just for one quarter wouldn't make sense at this point."

Gov. DeWine Weighs In

The school board has decided to keep Walnut Hills remote, but this was met with criticism from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

CPS, along with other school districts in the state, agreed to receive vaccinations for staff members if schools would return to in-person learning March 1. DeWine called CPS' decision to keep Walnut Hills remote "simply not acceptable."

"You made a commitment to your kids," DeWine said. "We expect you to fulfill that commitment."

Student Pros And Cons Of Returning

While Walnut will be remote for the foreseeable future, other high schools will be welcoming students back into buildings, including the School for Creative and Performing Arts.

Evie Hermann is a freshman at the school and studies dance. She was infected with COVID-19 during the pandemic and is still dealing with lingering symptoms from the virus. On top of dealing with a death in the family from the virus, she says she's been struggling with school online and is excited to go back in-person.

"I cannot wait for my grades to go up, which I know they will because I will be in school sitting at a desk with help working on my assignments instead of at home, not having much help, being very confused," Hermann said.

Ginger Hickerson is also a freshman at SCPA and studies drama. Remote learning hasn't gone well for her either. She says she normally gets good grades, but it's been difficult keeping up with all of the work. Her motivation to keep up with her assignments has also been hampered by the ongoing pandemic. While she's excited to return to the classroom, she says it's nerve-racking.

"I'm so excited to have that social aspect back and I'm so excited to be able to actually learn in school, but I'm not super excited for the fact that, 'Oh you still got to stay six feet away from people,' and, 'Oh, if you aren't wearing a mask you could kill someone,' " Hickerson said.

As high schoolers return to classrooms this week, that doesn't mean the demands for remote or in-person learning will cease. Another protestdemanding a safe reopening will take place later this week. Yousuf Munir is a senior at Walnut Hills and is the president of the Young Activists Coalition. He says the protests aren't just about one school or one group of kids.

"This fight is about all of us, and it requires solidarity among all of our different schools, among all of our different school communities who are united in the single fight for safe school, for safety for our kids, our teachers, our other staff members, and safety for all of us," Munir said.

Cincinnati Public Schools has confirmed that nearly 1,000 staff members and students have tested positive for COVID-19 since last May. Staff members began receiving vaccinations in late January, and more doses will be administered this week. So far, roughly 4,000 doses have been administered.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.