COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – With a teachers’ strike starting just two days away from the start of school, many parents are weighing options on whether their kids will even attend.
NBC4 heard from parents who won’t be sending their children to school during the strike — virtual or not. The remote learning plan is Columbus City School’s backup prepared for the majority of its unionized teachers to be absent for Wednesday, the start of school.
Kristin McCormick said she expects her first grader to be absent.
“He can’t sit in front of a computer all day, that’s not going to be a conducive learning environment for him,” McCormick said.
Part of the school district’s backup plan includes paying non-union, substitute teachers to host classes over Zoom for students. The teachers’ union, the Columbus Education Association, did not outright encourage parents to let their kids skip school while its nearly 4,500 members went on strike. However, the union’s spokeswoman did tell NBC4 after voting to strike that students would be missing a core classroom component if they attended.
“There is no substitute for the expertise that Columbus City School teachers have to offer,” said Regina Fuentes. “You cannot put a sub in a classroom and hand them this curriculum and expect them to do the job that we are trained to do.”
Despite some parents saying they won’t cross the picket line, the Columbus City Schools Board of Education has taken a hard stance against delaying the start date for students to return. It also isn’t making any exceptions even if the strike lasts into Wednesday.
“If students do not attend, they will be marked absent,” said Jennifer Adair, president of the Columbus Board of Education. “I certainly appreciate as a parent myself these decisions that families are making. The attendance rules which are in Ohio law are still applicable. [It’s] extremely important that parents understand the consequences of what that could be.”
Attendance means those students have to log on and participate in remote learning, and Adair went as far as to tell parents they would distribute Chromebooks and wireless hotspots to students needing help getting online. There won’t be any repercussions for students or parents who take excused or unexcused absences initially, but that could change depending on how long the strike goes on.
NBC4 looked into the school district’s printed policy as well as state laws Adair referenced to determine what the impact could be on parents and children who skip. The Ohio Department of Education said the state defines a student as habitually truant, or gone from school for an extended period without any legitimate excuse, as missing any of the following amounts of time in class:
- 30 school hours, or around four days, in a row
- 42 school hours, or around five days, throughout a month
- 72 school hours, or around nine days, throughout the year
CCS lists only these reasons as legitimate excuses for absence:
- Personal illness or quarantine
- Illness or death in the immediate household
- Emergencies or any other occurrences or situations which, in the judgment of individual principals, may necessitate absence from school as a last resort
- Religious holiday
- Superintendent’s designation
- For high school seniors, a max of three days for college and university tours.
If the teachers’ strike carries for even a week past the start of school and kids skip all of those days in a row, those students could be marked as habitually truant, according to CCS’ written policy. ODE said the school could then file a complaint against those students in juvenile court. The city school district takes it further in their policy, and could take aim at parents and guardians.
“The person or persons responsible for the student may be fined up to $500, required to perform up to 70 hours of community service, or both,” the school district wrote. “The repeated failure to make sure a truant student attends school also may result in criminal charges, a misdemeanor in the first degree, for contributing to the delinquency of a student.”
Regarding truancy charge enforcement, Columbus City Schools won’t see any assistance from school resource officers. The Columbus Division of Police confirmed to NBC4 on Monday that it still has no officers staffing the various schools in the district. The board of education let its contract with CPD expire in 2020 and instead hired 104 private security guards when in-person learning came back.
There are more possible punishments beyond truancy charges, however. Columbus City Schools said in an FAQ for parents that it also holds power over students’ driver’s licenses that could impact them for years.
“Ohio state law also imposes a direct consequence on a student by suspending the driving privileges of any student who drops out of school or is habitually absent,” the school district wrote. “When a student withdraws from school entirely for any reason other than a change of residence and is not attending any other school, the school district is obligated to report this fact to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles and the juvenile court. The registrar will then suspend the student’s driver’s license or permit or deny issuance of a license or permit if it has not been issued yet. This suspension will be in effect until the student turns 18 or until the superintendent informs the registrar that the student is now attending school.”
Columbus City Schools did mention that if parents disagree with the absences on record for their child, they can come in person to the school to dispute their attendance record.
On how many days the strike could go and how many days students would have to skip to avoid CCS’ remote learning, there is no clear end in sight. Fuentes told NBC4 that the teachers’ union intends to hold out striking as long as it can to get the school board back to the negotiating table. The Columbus Board of Education held an executive meeting Monday night, immediately going into a closed executive session. However, the board did not take any action after that meeting concluded.