COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – For the past 18 months, the pandemic has disrupted learning in Central Ohio schools. Thursday, the state’s largest school district welcomed students back for full in-person learning for the first time since March 2020.
“We are ready to have our students back,” said Columbus City Schools superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon. “The pandemic is still happening, but we wanted to make sure that we’re bringing our students and staff back in school safely.”
The extreme heat delayed the start of in-person instruction at 20 CCS schools. The district explained the buildings lack air conditioning or are in the process of installing or repairing current HVAC systems, and classrooms would be a potentially unsafe environment. Students from all of the affected schools will be in remote learning Thursday and Friday.
Dr. Dixon said the pandemic upgrades to technology and online instruction made it possible to pivot learning.
“We believe we have mastered technology in some sense [now],” she said. “This pandemic has taught us that we were not utilizing technology to leverage our educational resources for our students and opportunities for our students.”
The superintendent arrived early Thursday morning at the district’s busing facilities to send off drivers leaving on their new routes. Transportation presented one of the biggest challenges in the 2020-2021 school year, with driver shortages and social distancing requirements preventing CCS from transitioning to full in-person learning.
Rob Weinheimer, the CCS Transportation Operations Manager, said Thursday the district reconfigured and condensed routes and is now fully staffed. He added CCS is continually hiring and training new drivers to accommodate for absences.
“We’ve taken painstaking measures to make sure we’re prepared,” Weinheimer said. “Driver training has been a priority, we have COVID protocols in place, which are a priority.”
All students and staff are required to wear masks on transportation and within any indoor facilities. The policy change came after case numbers began rising in Central Ohio.
“I’m comfortable as long as they’re comfortable. I’m OK with the mask thing. As long as we can keep them protected, we’re fine,” said Jeffrey Davis, III, the father of first and second-grade students at Avondale Elementary.
Mifflin High School senior Andrew Hernandez agreed he felt safe with the policies in place.
“I don’t feel too bad about going. I’ve got the vaccine,” he said.
Teachers, alumni, and community members lined the walkways in front of Mifflin High School and Avondale Elementary School Thursday, greeting students as they entered their schools.
“Last year was pretty bad about COVID, so this year we’re trying to make a good comeback,” Hernandez said.
“I’m excited,” added AnnaBeth Andre, a junior at the school. “It was really boring sitting by yourself all day at home.”
Dr. Dixon believes the prolonged hybrid and remote learning may have caused learning loss and social-emotionaL trauma over the past 18 months.
“We know that the best learning is in front of our teachers,” she said.
CCS offered expanded, hands-on summer programming to address some of the learning gaps and lack of socialization.
“There was some sense of loss but we didn’t want to focus on what was lost, we wanted to focus on students being excited again about learning,” the superintendent said.
Dr. Dixon explained it will continue to be a priority as students readjust to full in-person learning. She said she’s in constant contact with Columbus Public Health and CCS has contingency plans if the pandemic evolves into a more dangerous situation.
The district plans to bring everyone back to the classroom by Monday, August 30.