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'School is safe': Columbus officials push to keep students in the classroom

The discussion comes amid weeks of uncertainty and schedule changes for schools throughout central Ohio following the winter break.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus city leaders and school officials emphasized the importance of in-person learning Tuesday. 

The discussion comes amid weeks of uncertainty and schedule changes for schools throughout central Ohio following the winter break. Columbus City Schools is one of several districts that has adjusted its schedules, switching to remote learning at some schools or canceling classes altogether in recent weeks in response to a staffing shortage.

"What's happening in Columbus right now is not unique to Columbus," said Columbus Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon. "It's happening all over the United States."   

According to Dixon, the district's priority is ensuring kids stay in school and stay safe. In order to do that, Dixon said the district has taken a daily assessment approach when determining which buildings are able to remain open. 

"This process has allowed us to safely have as many students possible in their classrooms for in-person learning," said Dixon. 

Over the past two weeks, the district has averaged more than 100 schools open for in-person learning. Dixon said a total of 41 schools have held at least one day of remote learning over that same timeframe.     

Last week, 2,800 CCS teachers and Columbus Education Association members requested the district switch to two weeks of remote learning in an effort to help staff get back on track amid a COVID-19 surge. 

The union argued recent staffing shortages – largely due to the virus – have caused more than anxiety; they’ve also prompted issues in transportation and meal distribution. 

Columbus City Schools continued to offer in-person classes in wake of that request.

"We want to be the beacon of resiliency and strength, and to show how to get through this pandemic together and prioritize our students," said Dixon. "Because our students deserve to be in school."  

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said the best way to keep students in school without overwhelming central Ohio's healthcare system is to wear a mask, get vaccinated and practice social distancing.   

"I know we're all exhausted and tired and frustrated with this pandemic. It has been a tough, tough year for everyone," said Ginther. "But our children have paid the highest price, suffering more than a year of remote learning."  

According to Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts, virus transmission is taking place in social settings and not in the classroom when proper COVID-19 protocols are in place.  

Roberts said one of the best things health officials can do heading into year three of the pandemic is keep kids in the classroom. 

"We want them to go to school, to get educated, to be healthy and to be safe. And they can do that best in the classroom where they belong," said Roberts.