CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Public Schools administration is recommending temporary remote learning as the Tri-State sees a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
During Monday's Board of Education meeting, CPS recommended a move to remote learning Jan. 6 through Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with students returning to class Jan. 18 pending improvement in community spread and employee absentees. The board did not take action, saying the recommendation will be brought up at its next meeting. For now, CPS will continue in-person learning.
On the district's first day back from winter break, the teachers union reported more than 300 employees were out with positive COVID-19 cases.
Cincinnati Federation of Teachers President Julie Sellers said 37% of the empty classrooms were filled Monday. CPS said the number of classes filled is usually close to 60%. Sellers said the district was short on substitutes and central office staff members were called in to cover some classes. CPS confirmed more than 60 central office staff members helped on Monday to ensure 11 schools would remain open — something administrators said is not sustainable.
Student attendance was at 77% Monday, with 80 reported positive COVID tests. The district also reported 23 nurse absences. Interim Superintendent Tianay Amat said CPS believes school buildings are safe, but staffing is the main priority.
When the district went on break, CPS said the City of Cincinnati reported around 91 people with COVID. That number was around 992 Jan. 1. The Cincinnati Health Department said it expects cases to double every three days.
The district already requires masks for everyone and vaccinations for all staff members. A voicemail reminder was sent to all CPS parents Sunday night noting the number of COVID cases and the district's mask policy.
In other districts, like Mason City Schools, masks are not required when students return to school.
"We're learning how to be smart about living with the reality of COVID in our world," Mason City Schools Superintendent Jonathan Cooper said. "You can always wear a mask. That is something that we encourage you to do."
Cooper said the district is taking a case-by-case and class-by-class approach.
"When we had a few cases in a classroom, we decided — we looked at the whole situation, we worked with the local health department — we decided that whole classroom would be remote the rest of the week," Cooper said. "That's an example of a strategic decision that uses data."
Southwest Local Schools, Ft. Thomas Independent Schools, Lakota Local Schools, Middletown City Schools and Kings Local Schools reported no significant changes to COVID protocols as they return to class.
Some parents like Sarah Thomas, though, said they want to see something of a road map. Her stepdaughter, who attends the School for Creative and Performing Arts, stayed home as a precaution while she awaits a COVID test result. Thomas said when her daughter returns, she hopes CPS has answered some of her questions.
"Parents are posting on you know school Facebook groups, texting each other, emailing each other wondering what the protocols are," Thomas said. "Did the schools change protocol to match the new CDC protocol, are the schools able to get any tests in, are they equipping teachers with any equipment? Like, we don't have answers to any of those things."
CPS has adopted the Ohio Department of Health's policy of a five-day quarantine, and said teachers do not have to test negative to come back to work. Employees can return to the workplace on their sixth day if they have no symptoms.