COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The teacher’s union for Ohio’s largest school district is asking for staff signatures in support of moving to remote learning.

Columbus City Schools has been dealing with school buildings moving to and from virtual learning on a daily basis since coming back from winter break last week.

Columbus Education Association (CEA) President John Coneglio said his members are looking for a consistent schedule.

“It’s basically calling for a two-week pause period,” Coneglio said. 

CEA sent an email Monday asking teachers in the union to sign a letter calling for remote learning for two weeks. Coneglio said this is an effort to provide a consistent teaching schedule and give teachers time to get healthy and get back on track.

“Currently we’re just about at two-thirds of our members have signed it, and we released that yesterday and within an hour of releasing it, I think we had 1,000 signatures,” he explained.

 There are approximately 4,200 staff members in the union.

Columbus City Schools have announced school buildings in remote learning every day since winter break ended Jan. 3.

The highest number of remote schools was 17 last Thursday, Jan. 6. On Friday, the district initially announced 24 schools would be in remote learning but ended up canceling classes altogether.

On Tuesday, three schools were conducting classes remotely. Six schools are scheduled to be remote on Wednesday.

In a statement, the district said, in part:

“We started the week with just three schools in remote learning, and the remaining 110 buildings are continuing with in-person learning. We are providing additional support where needed.”

Columbus City Schools senior Daizhon Cox said he wants to stay in person, in the classroom.

“I mean, this is just our second day back in,” Cox said; his school was in remote learning all last week.

“I talk to a lot of my peers, a lot of my teachers; you know it’s mixed feelings; like I said, some people want to stay, some people want to go,” Cox added.

“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,” the district said of its process for deciding which schools would switch to remote learning. “This process has allowed us to safely have as many students as possible in their schools for in-person learning.”

CEA released the letter Wednesday they were sending to the CCS administration, along with more than 2,600 signatures. You can read the full letter below:

Superintendent Dixon,

We, the undersigned educators, and proud members of the Columbus Education Association, call upon your Administration to immediately institute a two-week temporary remote learning pause to get us through the worst of the current COVID-19 Omicron surge. First and foremost, we agree wholeheartedly with your position that the best learning takes place in-person, in our schools. 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. Over the last two weeks, reported hospitalizations in Franklin County from COVID-19 are up by 25%. Reported test positivity is 20%. Cases are at record levels.

The current model of daily decisions to open some schools on below-skeleton staffing and close others, sometimes as late as 6:30 A.M. the same day, is (as you stated in the press) unsustainable. Data suggests that we have between a 20 to 30 percent substitute fill rate for absent educators. Even when educators can cover enough classes, reported staffing shortages in transportation and food service are causing late busses and inadequate distribution of meals to students. In addition, many buildings are reporting HVAC issues and are operating with little or no heat in the cold weather. 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.

Our Union was told to expect clarity and communication by the end of last week. CEA leadership was invited to a virtual meeting on Thursday and expected to receive a draft plan for the coming weeks. Instead, unbelievably, we received a plan to send non-instructional staff (primarily administrators) remote with no changes for classroom educators. CEA indicated in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable and insulting, and thankfully your Administration shelved the idea. Then on Friday, CEA was told to expect a communication from you to all CCS staff to provide some clarity, and instead got a business-as-usual message including the claim that “we are not seeing the spread of COVID-19 in our schools”, a statement that is simply outrageous and impossible to defend.

There is good news; January 17, 18, and 19 are already scheduled days of non-student attendance for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Records Day, and Professional Development. We can minimize learning loss and disruption to our community by calling a two-week pause inclusive of these days. 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. In addition, we already have negotiated terms for remote learning in our current Memorandum of Understanding, meaning this can be done immediately with a structure in place to facilitate the best learning possible in the current circumstances.

This year, CEA members have been all-in to keep learning going amidst incredible challenges. Now we need our business community all-in too. We call on you, Mayor Ginther, and our City Council to ask the Columbus Partnership and all employers to provide maximum flexibility to parents during a temporary remote learning pause. This means remote work where possible, and paid time off for essential workers. This city routinely touts the benefits of “public-private partnerships”. Mostly this includes our tax dollars flowing into private coffers, now we need these companies to step up for our students and families and show that they too, are “all-in”. To get back to maximum in-person learning, let’s do what it takes to safely navigate the current surge with a two-week temporary remote learning pause.