Questions remain as Cincinnati Public Schools unveils list of options for fall learning

Board votes for 1 of 4 options June 22
Posted at 10:26 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 23:44:47-04

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Public Schools announced every child in the district will get access to digital learning, but exactly how big of a role that will play next school year is still to be determined.

With CPS students being out of class since mid-March, nearly 400 people tuned into the district’s Wednesday evening special meeting. Superintendent Laura Mitchell outlined four options for the fall, something she called “the presentation of a lifetime.”

“I hope that we’re never, ever in this situation again,” she said.

The options for fall include:

  • In-person learning five days a week -- Of the four, this would present the highest COVID-19 transmission risk and require more money for buses and staffing in order to observe social distancing. Members say it would handle many parents’ childcare concerns.
  • Blended learning -- This would bring students in one or two days a week, which would present a medium infection risk and partially address childcare.
  • Distance learning with everyone at home -- This would present the lowest risk of transmission and keep costs low, but it leaves many parents returning to work with nowhere to send their children.
  • Hybrid learning -- This would mean in-person instruction for students pre-kindergarten up to 6th grade and keeping 7th through 12th graders home except for one or two days a month. That would present a medium infection risk and address childcare concerns for those with young children.

Schoology, an online grading and assignment sharing platform, and CPS-TV, a dedicated local channel for educational material launched in April, comes with each option. The district also has a digital school.

“We identified what has to be in place in order for us to be able to say we are ready to go,” Mitchell said Wednesday night.

More than 6,000 students, parents, employees and community members shared which option they would like to see in the fall, and 71% of parents surveyed said they were "extremely concerned or concerned" with "students' ability to effectively learn in a remote environment."

Additionally, 74% of parents said they were "extremely concerned or concerned" when it comes to "students' mental/emotional health during periods of remote learning."

“Pretty impressive sort of feelings, strong feelings about mental, emotional health as well as ability to learn,” said Krista Boyle, CPS chief communication and engagement officer.

Through the survey, CPS found that four "high level" concerns emerged, including consistent learning standards and equitable access to best tools and instruction, targeted communications, universal access to technology and IT support and social and emotional development "as important as academic growth."

While the details for fall are ironed out, it’s clear no option comes without its challenges; questions remain about how each option affects staffing, busing, after school sports and extracurricular activities.

“A group of 22 kids might all go to gym together from a classroom, so maybe you break that down into a smaller group,” Mitchell said.

Board Member Ben Lindy questioned if staffing changes were feasible during the transition this fall.

“Does this mean we’re doubling the number of elementary school teachers we have in CPS? Do we have money for that?” he asked.

Additional funding beyond the recent CARES Act would be needed to support meal distribution, technology, connectivity as school leaders estimate pandemic costs ranging from $35 million to $70 million. Officials are encouraging "direct-to-district funding" and hope to meet with legislators soon to learn more about a new recovery bill and the status of additional K-12 funding.

The Board is scheduled to vote on the fall plan on June 22, and a Strategic Engagement and Planning Committee will meet prior to that vote.

Also in June, CPS is launching a “Connect Our Students” program, a no-cost offer to qualifying families without internet access. The program will launch at a date to-be-determined for 2,000 students at five pilot schools: Rockdale Academy, South Avondale School, Hays – Porter School, Roberts Academy and Fairview-Clifton German Language School.

The Greater Cincinnati Foundation is administering the “CPS Technology Fund” without fees (except for required credit-card processing fees) so the fund receives 100% of donations. You can donate through ComputerXpress here or to the fund directly here.