COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Parents aren’t impressed by the virtual learning itinerary Columbus City Schools laid out, as the district braces for potential 80-person classrooms Wednesday.
After the 4,500-member Columbus teachers’ union voted overwhelmingly to go on strike, the district’s Board of Education devised a plan to task 600 full-time substitutes with delivering remote instruction via Zoom. But for some parents, curriculum, class schedules and the level of substitute involvement on the first day of school remain a mystery.
“That part of the puzzle is confusing to me,” said Christy Haynes, whose 9th grader at Columbus Alternative High School chose to stay home and stand with his striking teachers. “I don’t know where those substitutes are appearing.”
As Columbus teachers assemble picket lines, the ratio between substitutes and students could be as drastic as 1-to-78. The largest school district in Ohio, Columbus City Schools is home to about 47,000 students and 9,000 staff and teachers spread across the district’s 112 schools, according to its website.
CCS spokeswoman Jacqueline Bryant told NBC4 that the school has 600 non-union, full-time substitute teachers at the ready for remote learning. If no school administrator or non-striking educator assists with virtual learning – and all students show up to class – splitting the entire student body evenly among the dwarfed 600 substitutes on CCS’ payroll, they’re poised to oversee as many as 78 students each.
“The district already has many capable full-time substitutes who will be supplied with the curriculum, which has already been prepared, so that students may smoothly enter into the remote learning experience,” Bryant said.
At Colerain Elementary School in Clintonville, however, Morgan Patten said it’s still unclear whether the school, where she sends four of her five children, will have any substitutes at all.
“Theoretically, they could hire 600 subs,” she said. “But my guess would be that they’ve had trouble doing so.”
Similar to other elementary schools in the district, Patten said Colerain’s first day of school will kick off with a brief 9 a.m. Zoom meeting with the principal and assistant principal where attendance will be recorded for the school’s 180 students.
Once students check in, her two 5-year-olds and two 7-year-olds will likely follow what the district called “learning menus,” sample asynchronous schedules chock-full of links to online activities, virtual field trips, and other resources to guide students throughout the day.
“What they’re really doing is sending parents a list of websites that I could pull up on my own if I just typed ‘learning websites’ into Google,” Patten said. “They’re pretending like that is learning, and that’s not instruction, that’s not teaching, that’s not what we expect for our kids.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Patten had not yet received a sample schedule for her eldest son, who is due back to the remote sixth-grade classroom at Arts Impact Middle (AIM) School.
Under the district’s online learning guide, the social-emotional well-being of students is a priority. Daily check-ins via Zoom with school staff will give students the opportunity to talk about mental health and wellness and complete related activities, the district said.
Thursday and Friday will be completely asynchronous. It is unclear how students’ assignments will be graded or reviewed.
“These asynchronous days are an opportunity for students to take more ownership of how and what they learn, and we want them to use this time to focus on those content areas where they excel or need some extra work,” the district said on its website.
Parents of Columbus students should expect to hear about a school’s online learning protocols prior to the first day of school, the district’s website states. The district did not respond to NBC4’s inquiries about the format of Wednesday’s class schedule and how substitute teachers will be equipped to monitor and instruct students.
CCS also said previously that waiting for in-person learning to come back was not an option. The school has the power to potentially file charges against students and parents if they skip enough days of remote class during the strike.
“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.”
As Rachel Wheeler scrambles to prepare for her first-grade daughter’s first day at Clinton Elementary School, she said it’s “nearly impossible” to juggle her own job as a tax professional while monitoring her daughter’s progress on Zoom.
Helping her first-grader complete schoolwork might have to wait until Wheeler finishes work or on the weekends when she said she’d normally be spending quality time with her family.
“There’s very little that can be done during the day when I’m worried about feeding and clothing and supporting my family,” Wheeler said.
While Wheeler hopes the district and teachers’ union reach an agreement at the bargaining table, she said ideally she would have liked CCS to delay the first day of school until a contract is settled, tacking on make-up days at the end of the year.
“I just think this half-baked plan of not really learning,” she said, “Is not a recipe for success.”
The teachers’ union and school board are scheduled to meet Wednesday at 1 p.m. for a negotiating session, the first time back to the bargaining table since CEA voted to strike.
At a virtual meeting Tuesday evening informing CCS parents of back-to-school plans, Superintendent Talisa Dixon said the remote learning circumstances are not ideal, but hopes students are excited for the first day.
“We want all of our students in the classroom,” Dixon said. “I recognize and our team recognizes is that is where they learn best – in the classroom with their teachers. Unfortunately, an online start to the school year is unavoidable at this point.”