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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Cincinnati Public Reveals Options For Returning To The Classroom This Fall

school desk

During a virtual board meeting with more than 900 attendees, the Cincinnati Public Schools Board on Monday listened to public comment for more than two hours before unveiling five options on how students could resume classes come fall. And, like Cincinnati City Council before it, the board also fielded calls to remove police from its campuses. 

The district said "consistent, in-person learning is critical for all grade levels," and so plan options to return to the classroom in the fall include two variations of face-to-face learning and three variations of blended learning. That's where students would take in-person classes anywhere from 2-4 days per week and learn remotely for the rest.

In all plans, the district would follow CDC guidelines specific to schools, such as frequent cleaning and disinfection of rooms, supplying adequate soap and hand sanitizer and having back-up staff in place in case of teacher illness. 

Options include: 

  • Blended Option 1: All students have a minimum of two days of in-person classes per week, alternating weeks with three days of in-person learning. Six-feet of social distancing can be maintained. This is considered a medium safety risk. 
  • Blended Option 2: Pre-K through 6th grade classes would have in-person classes three days per week, with Grades 7-12 in in-person classes two days per week. Six-feet of social distancing can be maintained. This is considered a medium safety risk. 
  • Blended Option 3: Pre-K through Grade 6 attend in-person classes 4 days per week, with Grades 7-12 in person two days per week. Six-feet social distancing can be maintained. This is considered medium safety risk.
  • In-Person Option 4: Five days of in-person classes for all grades with three-feet of social distancing maintained. This is a medium-high safety risk. 
  • In-Person Option 5: Four days of in-person classes for all grades with one day of remote learning. With in-person classes, three-feet of social distancing will be maintained. This is medium-high safety risk. 

Another option for families who do not plan to send their child back to school at all is to enroll in CPS' Digital Academy, a K-12 online school offering founded in 2011. 
Nearby schools, including Mason in Warren County and Batavia in Clermont County, have settled on plans to have students return to in-person classes five days a week but allowing families to commit to a sememster at a time in person or fully remote with a separate online curriculum.

With all options, CPS' budget will increase, due to the requirements of additional bus monitors, nurses and teacher substitutes. Option 3 is the most expensive because transportation costs go up in order to meet social distance requirements on buses. 

The district is working with Cincinnati Children's on its plan, as well as its strategic planning committee, the teacher's union president and parents via online surveys. The district said it is also prepared to "flip to a remote-learning model" in the event of school-specific or state-mandated shutdown. 

Board reaction was largely positive, with some concerns expressed, mostly around equity. "I'm not interested in any plan that is not mandated six-feet," said Board Member Mike Moroski. "...In a district that is predominately black, to not take extra precautions with six-feet in a population that is disproportionately impacted by this disease - I couldn't do it. I couldn't get behind it."

Board Member Ryan Messer said he didn't see a difference between three and six feet knowing, for example, "how squirrely my kids are." He also expressed concern over some of the options with less in-person class times for families that couldn't afford childcare. 

"I'd love to see them in five days just simply because (that's) the overwhelming majority of the emails and phone calls I've gotten," he said.

Board Member Eve Bolton expressed support for keeping students in the same building. Some of the plans would require elementary age kids attend class at nearby high schools. 

The current timeline is to have the board reconvene June 29, with a plan released in July, and further details released in August. 

Earlier in the meeting, parent Danny Fisher had suggested CPS use the Duke Energy Convention Center and meeting rooms at Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium in order to secure proper social distancing for students. Superintendent Laura Mitchell said they had reached out to those places and more and that it wasn't feasible for a variety of reasons but that she is looking at engaging with more community spaces.

She also acknowledged the numerous parents who during the meeting spoke up about how hard it was to homeschool their children, sharing a story of having to help her 10-year-old grandson on a Zoom meeting while simultaneously making sure the districts many food hubs were open. 

"It was really hard, and I come to this with an education background," she said. 

Removing Police 

A handful of parents and teachers joined Monday's call to express support for removing the presence of Cincinnati police officers from school campuses. Ben Jarvis is a teacher at Taft. "As a teacher, as an educator, I've seen firsthand the trauma our kids experience," he said. "I've seen first hand the tension that having a police officer - and the retriggering of a trauma - that having a police officer brings to students at our school buildings.

Not everyone was in favor of the idea. Tia, who did not provide her last name on the call, is an officer with the Cincinnati Police Department and a CPS parent, as well as a product of CPS herself. "I have a career because there were law enforcement officers in my school there to help me," she said. 

The idea of removing police from Cincinnati's schools is not new. Organizers in 2015 started a similar effort after police in Cleveland killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice. 

Superintendent Mitchell said this is a moment to "disrupt" the system and rebuild it differently.

Jennifer Merritt brings 20 years of "tra-digital" journalism experience to WVXU.