As school districts debate back-to-school plan, parents are left with hard decisions

Posted at 1:49 PM, Jul 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-13 20:07:59-04

CINCINNATI — No matter what the Cincinnati School Board decides regarding the 2020-2021 school year, board members can be sure of one thing: They won't be able to make everyone happy.

The board initially decided to bring students back part time this fall. If that plan remains in place, parents say it will cause problems for many families.

The school board on Monday morning heard from parents who want to give their feedback about the plan. Keep up with that meeting, including comment from an expected 41 people, here as reporter Courtney Francisco tweets live.

Regardless of the decisions that are made and when kids will go back to school (or not), parents are going to be left to figure out how to plan their families, jobs and lives around this new reality.

“With only going to school half time now, what the school board has essentially done is put the onus on parents for educating the children,” said Leslie Mooney, who spoke to us before Monday's board meeting. She is the parent of three students at Fairview-Clifton German Language School and said she will have to make some tough choices so that her children can get a quality education this fall.

ANOTHER ANGLE: In-person classes would force 'fearful' CPS teachers to choose between health, livelihood

But she said she thinks of herself as one of the lucky ones. She and her husband are married and can find a way to potentially work from home and help her kids when they are in online schooling.

Her concern is for other parents who simply can’t make that work.

“I mean, I’ve heard some people talk about the choice between your child’s education and making an income and making a living to support family,” Mooney said. “So does one parent, if you are lucky enough to have a two-parent household, does one parent quit their job so that they can stay home and truly educate their children?”

The decision to bring students in two days a week one week, and three days a week the other was a tough one. And it was passed by the slimmest of margins.

Pamela Bowers, one of the CPS Board Members who voted for the plan, said before Monday's board meeting that she feels confident they made the right decision. She said all children in second grade and up will receive a laptop and the district is working with community partners to provide high speed internet for households that don’t have it.

“We are going to be working with families,” Bowers said. “The district is going to be talking to families on how to solicit more community partners to help offset this”

The plan as it was mapped out would mean that 700 jobs would be cut, though Monday's board meeting could change that.

Parents like Mooney worry about the unseen costs of kids learning part time at home, like not being with their friends, learning to be in an educational environment and a widening gap in opportunity for those who have and those who don’t have as much.

“This opportunity gap that is so often spoken about in education is also going to begin to become even wider than it already has been,” Mooney said. “And in an urban, public, large school district like CPS, that is incredibly important.”

There is also fear that students of parents with means will pull their kids out of CPS schools in favor of a private school that might provide more in-class instruction. Or, that there will be a rash of families that will simply move out of the district.

Bowers said those fears were taken into consideration when the board cast its vote. She said she is confident the decision it made is in the best interest of children's health and well-being.

“We do know that there are going to be some families that are going to make different decisions. We are aware of that,” Bowers said before Monday's meeting. “But, looking at all the information, this is what I personally, within my body, within my conscience, feel like would be a higher probability of safety for our students.”

But Mooney stands firm in her belief that this decision will ultimately hurt the district and the students it serves.

“I think the big picture here is that this was not the most child-centered, student-focused decision that could have been made by the school board, and it will have lasting repercussions, no doubt about it,” Mooney said.