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Cincinnati Public Schools to go remote starting Wednesday

Ambriehl Crutchfield

Cincinnati Public Schools will shift to remote learning starting Jan. 12 due to staffing shortages caused by COVID-19. The CPS Board of Education made the decision Monday evening.

The district will return to in-person learning Jan. 24 if staffing levels are sufficient to open the schools. The board voted 6-1 with Eve Bolton being the lone "no" vote. She says students are safer in the school buildings.

"We're in a national crisis — so be it," Bolton said. "But I do think and feel strongly, even listening to the science people today, even listening to the doctors and even looking at the statistics of what we've tried to do and the attendance rate, I think it's still reasonable to do it school-by-school."

Last Thursday, 1,475 CPS students were in quarantine, which is the highest amount reported during the pandemic. The district's student absentee rate was at 25%. Roughly 19% of the district's employees were absent.

A student told the board he was being sent to the gym for classes due to teachers being out sick. Board member Mike Moroski says the district should have switched to remote learning last week.

"I also find it insulting that we're asking people to use accrued sick leave and we're doing all of this for what? Because it doesn't sound like it's for learning," Moroski said. "If we have kids warehoused in gymnasiums for study hall, it sounds like we're keeping our schools open for some other reason which makes me uncomfortable. I don't know what it is, but it doesn't sound like it's for learning."

Interim Superintendent Tianay Amat says last Thursday, 786 employees were absent, more than when the district went remote in November 2020.

"We know our students learn better in the classrooms with our teachers, so shifting to remote learning is a choice of last resort," Amat said.

Amat says many substitutes will not come into the classrooms. January's fill rate for substitute teachers was 46 percent. Pre-COVID, the rate was up to 80 percent. The district will return to in-person learning on January 24 if staffing levels are sufficient to open the schools.

Currently, 23 nurses are absent. Last Thursday, 62 bus drivers were filling in for other positions including security. At least 30 temporary employees were serving as safety monitors in school buildings. Parents have also been providing support during recess and lunch.

Roughly 10,000 parents responded to a remote learning survey provided by the district. District-wide, remote learning was preferred by 53% of the parents, but 47% preferred school-by-school remote learning as needed.

Roughly 1,250 students and 3,100 staff also responded to the survey. At least 55% of the students preferred shifting the entire district remote while 45% preferred school-by-school closures. For staff, 68% preferred the entire district going remote.

Over the past week, eight schools shifted to remote learning due to staffing shortages. The district closed schools Friday because of snow, but Amat says 16 schools would've gone remote because of staffing issues. Last Monday, student attendance was at 77% and the rate for substitute teachers was at 37%.

During last week's organizational meeting, Amat revealed 11 schools, including Dater and Walnut high schools, would have closed Monday if the district hadn't sent 60 staff members from the central office to fill in.

The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers says more than 300 employees were out sick with COVID on the district's first day back from winter break. At that time, the district's administration recommended going fully remote from Jan. 6-18 due to rising COVID-19 cases within the district. Board members proposed moving to closures on a school-by-school basis instead, and tabled the issue until this Monday's meeting.

Nearly 5,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the district since May 2020. Of those, 3,431 are students and 1,556 are staff. As of Jan. 9, Greater Cincinnati is reporting a positivity rate of 32.7%. On Monday, Cincinnati's positivity rate was at 39.1% as 852 new cases were reported.

You can view the slideshow presented during Monday's board meeting below:

This story has been updated.

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