CPS Board Votes 4-3 To Resume In-Person Learning March 31
During a Cincinnati Public Schools board meeting Wednesday, the board voted 4-3 on a return plan for the fourth quarter of the school year that will allow students and their families to choose between being in school five days a week or full distance learning.
Board members Eve Bolton, Pamela Bowers, and Mike Moroski were the no votes.
In the plan, families will have to pick between two options for learning. The distance learning option on the table would have a child either attending school at the Cincinnati Digital Academy or distance learning through the online platform Schoology. The other option is to have class in-person five days a week. The in-person option will require mask wearing and other COVID protocols, but social distancing may not be at the CDC recommendation of six feet in some cases.
Before the vote, Board President Carolyn Jones said she has 100% faith in the district’s leadership involving COVID mitigation efforts. She says families should have their choice between in-person and distance learning.
"None of it is ideal, but that's what we have right now in the short period of time that we have remaining in this year, but I look forward to lots of development and planning and sort of solidifying where we are for a five day start for next year," Jones said.
Phasing into this plan could begin by Wednesday, March 31. Walnut Hills will be phased in by grade level for staff members to learn new safety protocols. Seventh through ninth graders would transition back March 31, then 10th through 12th graders would transition back the following week.
Technological efforts to improve concurrent learning options are a focus for the district.
During the school year, more than 35,000 devices were provided to students. Roughly 20% of the district's students are receiving internet through CPS.
Lead Network Engineer Jeremy Gollihue said they've cut their original three-year timeline for improvements to 18 months. This could provide a phased in approach to offer more services.
"With that in mind, we would be able to say that we will be ready in the fall to be able to provide concurrent instruction support for classes with the highest amount of need in the fall," Gollihue said.
By next spring, concurrent learning options will be available for all students. However, these improvements could cost between $23 million to $53 million.
Surveys were sent to CPS families last week to see which learning option they'd prefer: in-person or distance.
Excluding Walnut Hills families, only 21% of families within the district responded. Roughly 58% of districtwide parents excluding Walnut Hills parents prefer four or five days in-person. In the fall, 67% of those parents are comfortable with sending children to school five days a week in-person.
A survey was also sent to students of Walnut Hills High School. Only 26% of students responded. At least 42% prefer four or five days of in-person learning while 31% prefer distance learning.
Walnut Hills High School is currently remote due to the social distancing issues the building creates. Original plans involved classes being held with as little of three feet of social distancing. During a meeting last week, Dr. Maryse Amin with the Cincinnati Health Department said she doesn't know of any studies that definitively state that three feet of social distancing is acceptable within classrooms.
Staff members also took part in their own survey. The response rate was 29%. Out of the 1,619 respondents, 62% were teachers.
At least 43% of the respondents said they are not comfortable with returning to in-person instruction in the fourth quarter. Regarding instruction in the fall, 86% said they are either highly comfortable, comfortable, or somewhat comfortable with returning to in-person learning five days a week.
Open Meeting Law Violation Allegations
Board members addressed allegations of potential open meeting law violations made in an Enquirer article posted on Wednesday.
The article contains communications between board members made during and outside of public meetings, mostly involving group text messages. Jones said the board is committed to transparency and that the decisions were made in public.
"This can also be an opportunity for us to be more vigilant in the future," Jones said.
In the article, Board Member Ben Lindy said he makes a point not to reply to group threads because of the city's previous texting scandals, citing Cincinnati City Council's "Gang of Five," where in 2018 five council members admitted their group texts violated Ohio's Open Meetings Act.
This story has been updated.