Leaders of the Cincinnati Public School district will meet Monday, Aug. 3, to take another look at its blended learning plan for fall as coronavirus cases continue to increase in Hamilton County and the state.
Since announcing its plan to alternate days of in-person classes with remote learning, the school board has received pushback from parents and teachers alike about the decision. That pressure has ratcheted up as Hamilton County continues to hover on the cusp of turning from red to purple on Ohio's public health advisory scale. A purple designation could mean a return to a stay-at-home order.
On Wednesday, Board Member Ryan Messer asked Superintendent Laura Mitchell for a hard date of when the district could make a decision about changing course because "families need to plan; teachers need to plan."
Mitchell said she needs at least two more weeks of data. "With our 15 project plan, we reviewed all of them yesterday and almost all of them have due dates of Aug. 3, so I need this in place," she said, noting that she is prepping for the "best-case scenario" that school reopens Aug. 24.
"We have developed a decision matrix about whether to open," she continued. "It was created with the help of physicians. … What I don't want to do is prematurely call it. I want to make sure that we're ready to go in August if we can."
She said it has been challenging to get an answer from health professionals as to when, exactly, cases rise to the level necessary to close school. "I have asked countless physicians: Help me understand. What's the lever to say, no, let's cut it off? And no one will give me a concrete, definite answer."
Mitchell said she has asked Cincinnati Children's Hospital if it would consider developing an advisory committee the district could talk to on a regular basis to "help us identify go; no go, because that is not our area of expertise."
She and her staff have also scheduled walk-throughs of schools on Aug. 3 to glean the experiences of students and staff when and if they return to class. "So the moment I hit the building, what is my experience? The temperature check, the masking, the classroom, the signs on the floor … all of these things we're putting into place to ensure that when we go back, we are able to receive our people in a very safe manner."
In addition to those precautions, the district is also in the process of building a dashboard to track coronavirus cases in the district, which will be available to the public. The goal is to have the dashboard ready by the first day of school, Aug. 24.
"It will have city data, it will have county data, it will also have the information by zip code," she said. " Then you will have data for each one of our schools – (the) number of confirmed cases on a map. You'll see the entire district and you'll see on the map, red, yellow, green in terms of confirmed cases, the number of sicknesses as well as containments for each day."
She said the district would look at this data every morning and afternoon.