The Cincinnati Public Schools Board has decided on a plan for returning to school in the fall. The board considered five models and heard feedback from parents, teachers and the community, including 6,200 survey responses.
The five models were whittled down to three alternatives:
- Blended - All students attend in-person classes two days or three days on alternate weeks. They then attend school remotely the other days. Allows for six feet of social distancing
- In-Person 1 - All students in classrooms five days per week with three feet of social distancing
- In-Person 2 - All students in classrooms four days per week with three feet of social distancing and a remote learning day when schools would be deep-cleaned
The board selected the blended option, with four of the seven board members - Pamela Bowers, Carolyn Jones, Ben Lindy, Mike Moroski - preferring that model. Eve Bolton and Melanie Bates identified the In-Person 2 model as their first preference and Ryan Messer selecting the In-person 1 model.
Here's the example from the district:
"For instance, on Week 1, Group A will attend in-person classes for two days and attend remotely the other three days; while Group B will attend in-person classes for three days and attend remotely the other two days. On Week 2, Groups A and B will switch schedules."
Superintendent Laura Mitchell says response from parents about which option they favored was relatively split between remote and in-class learning. The district serves approximately 36,000 students.
Mitchell acknowledges that the coronavirus situation could mean the district must make quick decisions about closing schools or changing its plans and she says there are methods in place for various eventualities based on data the district is constantly tracking.
"We have a plan in place for all of those should we need to be able to close down classrooms very quickly, an entire school, or the district," she says. "We will rely heavily on the data to inform our work moving forward and we'll be prepared to make and mid-course corrections that are needed."
The use of masks or face coverings is expected. There will also be plans for health checks.
The additional cost is expected to be $23 million. Those increases account for additional nurses, bus monitors, substitute teachers, cleaning and technology. The district received $7.3 million in federal CARES Act funding. This model means the district needs to find $47.7 million in reductions to balance its budget.
The district's treasurer says 726 positions will likely be cut to close the budget gap, though she says that doesn't necessarily mean 726 people will lose their jobs as some people could potentially be moved to other roles.
Comments from the public were mixed on which option was preferred. Parents, students and teachers all spoke in favor of each of the options. One student told the board she needed in-person learning in order to succeed. On the other side, several teachers worried about becoming sick and infecting at-risk loved ones.
Mitchell says the district wants to hear from parents about what is working and what isn't. She says the district will increase its communication with families and stressed the need for up-to-date contact information for all parents and students.
One complaint from many parents during the end of the last school year was a lack of consistency across classes and schools. Mitchell says the administration is working to improve in that area.
Work is already underway, she says, to adjust curriculum.
Board members expressed concerns for students' social and emotional health as well as their physical health and that of the teachers and staff. They also noted worries about childcare and how the coronavirus is affecting African Americans at higher rates.
Julie Sellers, president of the teachers' union, says none of the three options are creative. She says a survey of teachers completed Monday morning indicates teachers are fearful about sitting in small classrooms with too many students. She says 54% of respondents preferred the option with the fewest days of in-class learning, and 40% worry they're at high-risk for exposure to the coronavirus.
She also expressed concerns about how the schools will provide special services including those such as individual education plans.
"We may have to have a different model for students who have disabilities or students who speak English as a second language or a different model for kids who are gifted," Mitchell said during a news conference following the school board meeting.
The state of Ohio hasn't yet handed down its recommendations or requirements for schools in the fall.
The school district is working with advisors from Cincinnati Children's to come up with safety measures and recommendations.
For example, Mitchell says food kiosks have been tested and will likely be used for the district's food service. Talks are ongoing with the district's transportation providers to ensure safety on buses. This may include additional bus monitors.
The district has a plan to get technology and devices into every second through 12th grade students' hands, along with access to WiFi. Mitchell says the district is partnering with Cincinnati Bell to provide affordable WiFi, adding that some community groups and others are stepping forward with funding for those families who need assistance. She says the district estimates there are about 11,000 homes without WiFi access.
Childcare remains a big question for many families and Mitchell says the district doesn't have any firm ideas yet. She is encouraging families to begin searching for viable childcare options now.
Speaking about curriculum, Mitchell says some diagnostics will be needed to understand losses from the summer and the way the previous school year ended.
"We know that there's a little bit of back work that we need to do in terms of looking at where our kids were when they left in March to be able to build a plan to really move forward. We'll have to have more individualized, customized plans for our young people, which, really, blended learning can really help actually move our kids in that direction because with blended learning you can move as fast or as slow as you need to."
Families who don't wish to send their child back to school may enroll in CPS' Digital Academy, a K-12 online school. Mitchell says that curriculum has been updated.
Now that a model is decided, work will begin on fully developing a plan. Further details are expected later in the summer.
- 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.
All plans include following CDC school-specific guidelines 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.
Parents and guardians can find more information by visiting www.cps-k12.org, calling the customer care hotline: 513-363-0123 or following CPS' Facebook (@CincinnatiPublicSchools), Twitter (@IamCPS) and Instagram (@IamCPS) channels.
This story has been updated.