Columbus teachers union wants remote learning for 2 weeks

(The Center Square) – The teachers union in Ohio’s largest school district wants in-person classes stopped for two weeks to combat an ongoing COVID-19 surge.

The Columbus Education Association released a letter signed by more than 2,800 educators, representing more than two-thirds of the union’s 4,200 membership. The letter, addressed to Columbus City Schools Superintendent Talisa Dixon, called the current education model unsustainable.

“First and foremost, we agree wholeheartedly with your position that the best learning takes place in-person, in our schools,” the letter read. "We strongly believe that the best way to ensure maximum in-person learning in the coming months is to combat the current surge with decisive action today.”

The system has moved a handful of schools to remote learning each day since students returned from the holiday earlier this month. The changes have been made because of staff illness or maintenance issues, and the union complained opening some schools with skeleton staffing and making decisions on adjustments each morning creates problems.

The district closed all schools to remote and in-person learning Jan.7 because of a high number of absences in the transportation staff.

“This creates chaos and confusion for students, parents, and educators who don’t know what to expect. Worst of all, when inevitably poor staffing causes all schools to be closed, such as on Friday January 7, students receive no instruction whatsoever,” the letter read.

Four middle schools and two elementary schools were moved to remote learning Wednesday, with the decision made for two of them at 6 a.m. Another elementary school was completely closed for all learning because of heating issues.

The union recommended the next two weeks be remote learning, with students already scheduled to be out of class Jan. 17-19.

“This pause will help minimize the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron surge and can be used to allow administrators the time to secure and distribute proper masks, deep clean our buildings and potentially make repairs to the HVAC systems that are not working,” the letter read.

District officials released a statement that said it is counting on information from health experts to make decisions.

"The district appreciates the work of all employees throughout the pandemic and their willingness to be flexible to serve our students,” the statement read. "... We are in daily communication with union leadership as we evaluate whether to transition individual school buildings to remote learning. This process involves looking at the number of absences and the types of absences, starting in the afternoon and continuing into the evening and early morning hours. This process has allowed us to safely have as many students as possible in their schools for in-person learning.

"We will continue to rely on the guidance of public health experts, who have advised us that our mitigation efforts are working. These practices include universal masking, frequent hand washing, and social distancing where practical.”

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