CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Public Schools will resume in-person learning five days per week for all schools at the end of March.
The return to in-person learning will start districtwide March 31, after CPS spring break. Walnut Hills High School, which has remained virtual throughout the pandemic even as the rest of the district used a blended learning model, would be phased in by grade level to learn new safety protocols.
The CPS Board of Education voted 4-3 to approve the plan Wednesday evening, with members Carolyn Jones, Ryan Messer, Melanie Bates and Ben Lindy voting yes. Members Eve Bolton, Pamela Bowers, and Mike Moroski dissented.
CPS students district wide could return to the classroom at the end of the month. pic.twitter.com/i5Jb7D4ZHC— Kristen Swilley (@KristenSwilley) March 10, 2021
Everyone inside school buildings will be required to wear masks, and while the plan states physical distancing will be possible, it may not always be 6 feet. The plan also includes cleaning and ventilation protocols, contact tracing and virus screening, and enforcing hand washing and respiratory etiquette.
Families will also be able to choose to continue online through the Cincinnati Digital Academy or distance learning from home school options.
"The district will continue to upgrade its infrastructure and we are excited to offer a concurrent learning option for all interested families during the 2021-2022 school year," read a CPS statement Wednesday. "Concurrent learning means students will continue with distance learning from home but will be able to remote into their classroom for their daily lessons with their teacher. Families at Walnut Hills will participate in a pilot for concurrent learning during the spring."
According to district surveys presented Wednesday, about 58% of CPS parents and 54% of Walnut Hills parents surveyed said they are comfortable sending children back to classrooms this school year, and 57% of staff agree. Those surveys also showed about 67% of parents said they are comfortable sending children back in fall, and 86% of staff agree.
A quick look at the results of a recent parent survey. Of note, about 70% are comfortable returning in person this fall. pic.twitter.com/Y22CGC1VeJ— Kristen Swilley (@KristenSwilley) March 10, 2021
“I’m humbly asking you to please help our children get back to in-person learning as a demonstration this quarter that that is possible,” said Walnut Hills parent Shena Jaffee.
There were pleas from all sides over the course of this and several other hours-long meetings.
“Please ensure that science and safety are not overridden by the fervent desire to have things like they used to be,” said CPS parent Jilda Vargus-Adam.
And as concern about COVID-19 variants remains, medical experts said much is still unknown.
“There’s very, very preliminary data out there, but it boils down to we really don’t know and it’s not known about differences in the symptoms in children,” said Grant Mussman with the Cincinnati Health Department.
Nana-Hawa Yayah Jones, whose son attends the still-remote Walnut Hills High School, said before the meeting she hoped the board would prioritize a full return to classrooms.
“I’m a proponent of in-person learning, number one because of how it has affected my son,” she said. “He’s gone from straight As to Bs, Cs, Ds and Fs. He has a hard time focusing and concentrating.”
Jones’ complaints echoed those of some other local parents who lamented negative changes in their children’s school performance and mood during remote learning. One, Leslie Mooney, felt so strongly that she pulled her own son out of the district and enrolled him in a vocational school that meets in person.
“(I want) to make sure that the kids at Walnut Hills, who did so well just to get into Walnut Hills, can actually have those experiences,” Jones said.
But other parents, including Jenny Spring and Chanda Monroe-Williams, said they feel just the opposite — that an excessive focus on returning to the classroom has prevented the district from refining its remote option.
"It's incredibly frustrating,” Spring said. “You know, we have been asking for an equitable remote option since they discussed a return to the buildings in the fall."
Spring and Monroe-Williams both chose to keep their children on remote schedules through spring because their families include members at high risk of COVID-19 complications.
"While I think it's important for my family to be remote, I support both a remote and in-person option,” Monroe-Williams said. "I think the district should be able and should be accountable to produce both."
For more information on CPS return to in-person learning plan, click here.