COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state’s largest school district may not be opening its doors to students this fall after all.
Dr. Talisa Dixon, the superintendent of Columbus City Schools, made that announcement during a call with reporters on Sunday.
“I know parents want to know right now what are we going to do, but I just don’t have that answer right now,” she said.
Late last month the district announced a plan to have K-8 students attend in-person classes in a blended format, with 9-12 students learning remotely. The start date is Sept. 8.
But after a recent meeting with officials with Columbus Public Health, Dr. Dixon said those plans may need to change.
Coronavirus case numbers are rising in the district’s attendance boundaries.
Health leaders suggest it would not be safe to reopen prior to the city seeing four consecutive weeks of dropping numbers.
“When we think about what’s happening in our boundaries, those numbers cause us all to pause,” Dr. Dixon said.
“We want to make sure that our students enter, come to school safe [and] our staff members who are interacting with our students and families and if we cannot do that with the current number of cases, then we won’t do it," she said
"We will not put our students, families and staff in jeopardy. So those numbers, related to our attendance boundaries, causes us to say that we need to re-think this. We need to work closely with our Columbus Public Health partners and make sure that the plan that we set forth for our students and families and staff is the right plan to make sure that everyone is safe from this nasty, horrible virus," Dr. Dixon explained.
That means a plan to have every student learning remotely in the fall is now on the table.
More than 1,000 students have signed up for the digital academy, meaning those students want to learn remotely the entire school year regardless.
The district also plans to have an additional 20,000 Chromebooks for students this fall.
This past spring, CCS provided more than 19,000 Chromebooks and more than 1,600 hot spots to help keep students connected while they were learning from home this spring.
CCS also plans to continue to offer grab-and-go meals from at least 15 locations throughout the district.
“This is a deadly disease that we all want to find a cure, but we do not want to jeopardize the safety of our staff, our students and our families,” Dr. Dixon said.
“So we will reopen school as safely as possible, but we will definitely use the guidance of our health officials before we open school this fall.”
Dr. Dixon also said several students who have returned to school sports practices within the district have tested positive for COVID-19.
On Friday, Dr. Dixon shared an update with the CCS staff.
The full text of that is below:
Dear CCS Staff:
As you know, on June 30, I provided our District’s initial fall school reopening plans to the CCS community. The recommendations were based on the intensive work by the Reopening Task Force led by more than 150 staff, teachers, principals, district partners, union leadership, businesses, community leaders and local and state health officials.
First and foremost, our priority for the 2020-21 school year is to keep our entire CCS community – students and their families and all teachers, staff and administrators – safe during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That priority, followed closely by providing equitable learning opportunities for all students, has not changed. The Task Force continues its work and is influenced by frequent information and guidance by Columbus Public Health.
As you know, the spread of COVID-19 continues to increase, especially in the city of Columbus and Franklin County. This past Tuesday, I asked Health Commissioner Roberts’ team to provide an update to my cabinet and Task Force leaders, including all our union partner presidents, on the virus as it pertains to our district boundaries and family zip codes. The numbers are sobering.
An important recommendation from these health experts included seeing four consecutive weeks of decreasing number of cases in order for schools to reopen safely. Even with implementing social distancing on school busses and in the classroom, it is still a challenge to bring students and employees back safely if the rate of infection does not begin to trend and sustain downward.
We will continue our close communications with Columbus Public Health for updates on the spread of the virus within our District boundaries. As we monitor the data and seek guidance, we will need to give serious consideration to beginning the school year with a fully remote learning model for grades K-12. Although no decision has been made, I wanted to provide you with the most recent update based on our meeting earlier this week with Columbus Public Health.
I know that all of you, like me, want nothing more than to have our students back in the classroom and in our buildings. However, that may not be possible if the data does not improve. We simply would not be able to take the risk. At the same time, we feel positive about the strides we have made with ongoing meetings with our labor union partners as we begin to prepare for digital and blended learning. Online or digital learning will be a part of all of our futures in education, and CCS will be a leader as we implement a 1-to-1 initiative by 2023.
I will continue to provide you with information as we receive it from our partners at Columbus Public Health. I sincerely appreciate all the support and encouragement I’ve received from so many of you as we work to navigate these unchartered waters during the ongoing pandemic.
Dr. Talisa Dixon