Do we stay the course or return to the classroom?
The lingering question for our schools is do we return to the classroom, or not? With the exception of some special-education students, CH-UH schools have remained remote, thus far. Last November, when COVID cases were surging, our special education students and staff returned to remote learning. At that time, many Ohio districts chose to suspend in-person learning. So, when is the right time to go back?
Remote learning is not ideal. More than anything, teachers want to be with their students. Schools, however, are unlike other businesses. We are in the business of teaching children, and this is difficult to do safely during a pandemic.
By nature, children don’t “social distance,” so that’s out, even if space were available. Many adults have difficulty wearing a mask properly, so we can’t expect children to wear them properly at all times. Teaching behind dividers is neither ideal, nor helpful, for the one-on-one instruction that many students need.
Those who want students back in classrooms believe that, because other businesses are open, schools should be, too. Remote-learning routines are not ideal, but they are working as best they can under difficult circumstances.
Could we do a hybrid model, in which some students attend school in-person two days a week, while others learn at home? If a successful hybrid model could be found, perhaps our district should go that route. Hybrid programs bring students back into the building, but working parents still need to find childcare for the other three days a week.
Some families do not want their children to return at all, until it is safe to do so. Some staff members are at high risk for serious complications if they contract COVID.
It is difficult to teach some students in-person and hope that those at home on their computers are learning at the same rate. The hybrid model is new territory and has yet to show much success in any district that is using it.
Going to in-person, full-time teaching does not seem like an option now. COVID numbers are still high, and school personnel are next in line to be vaccinated. While we await vaccines, are schools safe enough to operate without incubating a mass outbreak? Probably not.
In-person learning should resume when COVID numbers go down, and faculty and staff have been vaccinated. Students under 16 years of age have not been approved for vaccination, which means we must protect them as best we can.
Starting a hybrid model, or bringing students back full time, could result in a surge, and then a return to remote learning. Because we are no longer required to quarantine after exposure to COVID in schools or on buses, another surge in cases would be catastrophic for our school system.
Remote instruction is where we are right now. Our teachers are working hard. Our students and their families are making it work as best they can. We all want to return to the school buildings, but only when it is safe to do so. When we know with certainty that it’s safe to return, we will explore the best way to do it.
Karen Rego has taught grades K–8 in the CH-UH school district, and currently provides math and language support at Monticello Middle School. She is the president of Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.