Remote on the rise… again?

By Dawn Hatfield

DailyAdvocate.com

MIAMI VALLEY — As COVID-19 variants, flu, and typical seasonal illnesses surge across the nation, multiple schools throughout the Miami Valley have recently returned to remote learning.

Upon returning from winter break, a “sudden, significant increase in student and staff absences” was noted in Tipp City Schools Superintendent Mark Stefanik’s Jan. 11 letter to parents as cause for implementing remote learning across the district from Thursday, Jan. 13 through Friday, Jan. 21.

Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli of Dayton Public Schools released the following notice on Jan. 11 as well:

“With the recent increase in absences due to illness, the district will move to a blended learning plan for Thursday, January 13th and Friday, January 14th. We hope that this time at home will give everyone an opportunity to get well. Students and staff will return on Tuesday, January 18th for a regular school week… Athletic events for Thursday and Friday are canceled. Thank you and please stay safe and healthy.” This follows the district’s parents-only athletics restriction for games less than a month ago.

In posts on the Springfield City School District Facebook page, it was announced on Jan. 5 that Springfield High School would practice virtual instruction Jan. 6 through 7. On Jan. 9, both Schaefer and Hayward Middle Schools were added to the virtual instruction list and the date range extended through Jan. 14.

A range of parent reactions ensued. In a Springfield City School District Facebook comment, Ashley Arnold wrote, “I think they all should be virtual[;] it’s harder on the kids and parents but the schools need cleaned and they need a break from being around all the other kids.” Christina Hopping added, “You might as well put us all on shut down. Why are you picking and choosing which schools. [sic] The whole city is sick.” Felindo Perez retorted, “[I]n my opinion Virtual is only making these kids fall behind, My [sic] child just got caught up and now back to virtual…virtual is not helping.” Angela Boyd’s post summed up the predicament school districts face by writing, “If they don’t close your [sic] not happy, if they do close your [sic] not happy. Good grief.”

In a Jan. 7 DaytonDailyNews.com report, Huber Heights Superintendent Mario Basora was quoted as saying, “At this time, the number of staff out with illness combined with a nationwide shortage of qualified substitutes has made maintaining a safe and quality in-person learning environment unfeasible at Valley Forge Elementary,” in a letter to parents last Friday. DaytonDailyNew.com’s article went on to state that “the [Huber Heights City Schools] district has 121 students and staff who have reported testing positive for COVID-19, and the level of COVID-19 cases is at an all-time high,” as noted by Basora.

Furthermore, Fairborn City Schools’ website announced FCS would move to remote learning for two days in a letter to families, saying, “The Fairborn City School District will be moving to Remote Learning (no live instruction) Thursday, January 13th and Friday, January 14th due to increased illnesses with both staff and students… All extra-curricular activities are canceled for these dates as well… The district is encouraging all staff members and students to take this time to stay home and take care of your personal health.”

West Carrollton joined the ranks of remote education via announcement on your West Carrollton Schools website, calling for remote learning to begin Jan. 13, which would keep students out of classrooms until Jan. 18 once scheduled QPT and holidays have concluded.

Closer to home, Darke County schools are continuing face-to-face instruction. Arcanum-Butler Superintendent, John Stephens, said on Jan. 12, “Arcanum-Butler remains committed to learning in-person. We continue to monitor the health of our students and staff, and while we have recorded some positive cases of COVID, we also have students experiencing influenza, colds, sinus infections and other health issues contributing to absences. Our daily attendance rate has fluctuated between 7 to 13 percent on any given day since Christmas break, and our supervisors and staff members continue to work hard at finding substitutes and coverage when needed. I can’t thank our staff and dedicated substitutes enough for their efforts to help cover classes and classified positions. As we have done throughout the last few years, we will continue to monitor the health and safety of students and staff, and if necessary, we can utilize e-learning, blizzard bags and calamity days if the need arises.”

Versailles Local Schools Superintendent Aaron Moran explained, “For Versailles Schools, the priority has been and will continue to be addressing the needs of our students. This puts face-to-face instruction as a key component for addressing the academic, social, and emotional needs of our students.”

Noting the many steps the Versailles district has taken since the start of the pandemic, such as installing hand-washing stations, increasing cleaning schedules, minimizing student interactions, hiring two additional medical professionals, and contracting with Wilson Health Hospital, Moran concluded, “At this time, we do not anticipate or plan to go remote as we do not wish to challenge the priority of teaching students in our buildings. We, like other districts, have had to juggle fluctuations in staffing due to illness. The staff (teachers, aides, custodians, administration, food service, transportation, secretaries, and custodians), students, families and community have been flexible and resilient. As we continue onward, we will continue to prioritize face-to-face learning and consider what is best for our students and staff.”

Superintendent of Franklin Monroe Schools, Jeremy Pequignot, said, “Generally speaking, it’s going along pretty similarly [to fall]. When kids were home over the break, we might have had a small increase, but we definitely plan to continue in-person. Right now, our numbers are pretty low. As far as actual COVID cases, I think we only had two this week.”

A message from Jeff Winchester, Superintendent of Mississinawa Valley Schools, reported a recent spike in COVID cases; however, there are no current plans for the district to go remote. Winchester said, “We’ve weathered these storms before. In November/December of 2020, we went through a similar spike, and we made it through that; I think we’re gonna make it through this one.”

In Ansonia, Superintendent Jim Atchley echoed his colleagues, “We are continuing to monitor the situation with both student and staff attendance. At this time, we do not have any plans to move to remote learning.”

In the county seat, Greenville City School District has reported 86 positive COVID-19 cases since resuming classes post-winter break. Daily case numbers have increased from three new cases on Jan. 4 to 24 new cases on Jan. 12. Superintendent Doug Fries said this of his district, “Greenville Schools is monitoring daily our student and staff attendance rate by both building and district percentages. Presently, our attendance rates the last two weeks overall is no worse than it has been a few other times during the pandemic dating back to March 2020. We will continue to watch and work with the County Health Commission as/if needed.”

Fries continued, “Our staff have all done an outstanding job covering for each other along with our dedicated and committed substitutes. Both our staff and substitutes should be commended for their dedicated service throughout the past two years. After [Friday Jan. 14], our students will be off until Wednesday, Jan. 19 with the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday and the semester staff workday. Hopefully, this extra time will allow for some who are ill to improve and others to be able to isolate and rest.”

An important consideration is that it is not always simply student absences that are of concern. As noted by several that have chosen a virtual respite for their schools, staff absences can overwhelm a district to the point of having to make difficult decisions too. This final point was shared by Fries, “Again, our district is always looking for additional substitutes for anyone who might be interested. Contact Memorial Hall if you are interested in substituting the second semester.”

Dawn Hatfield covers education stories for The Daily Advocate. Have a school-related event to share? Reach out by email at [email protected] or by phone at 937-569-0066.