Upper Arlington Schools to return to remote-learning model Nov. 30

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Upper Arlington Schools

Citing high student absences as well as a teacher staffing crunch brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the Upper Arlington School Board voted 4-1 on  Nov. 23 to move to an enhanced-distance learning model through Dec. 18.

The district will return to enhanced-distance learning Nov. 30.

Because the board voted Nov. 18 to go to online classes Dec. 21-22, the transition means all K-12 students, with the exception of elementary and middle school students with special needs, will receive all instruction virtually through Dec. 22. 

Special-needs students who have been attending schools five days a week will start remote learning Tuesday, Dec. 1, and it will run through Friday, Dec. 4.

After that, the "highest-needs learners" at the elementary and middle schools will attend in-person classes three days a week during mornings from Dec. 8, to Dec. 22.

Special-education students at Upper Arlington High School will take all classes online through Dec. 22. 

The board’s action comes after the Ohio Department of Health on Nov. 20 raised Franklin County’s coronavirus risk level to “purple,” signifying a severe chance of exposure to the virus for people in the county.  

In recommending the move to full remote learning, Superintendent Paul Imhoff said students at all buildings are missing school as they await results of coronavirus testing or because of being quarantined.

Additionally, he said, there is “great distress among the staff right now” because of staffing shortfalls and 14% to 17% of the district’s staff has been absent in recent weeks because of being quarantined.

“Without enough staff, we are not able to provide the quality of education that is essential to our kids,” Imhoff said.

The action came after Imhoff said the district last week received conflicting guidance from Franklin County Public Health as to how to provide instruction to students.

On Nov. 19, he said, the health department advised districts in the county to transition to virtual learning until Dec. 18.

A day later, Imhoff said, the health department issued a statement to districts advising they remain in their current learning modalities but to also make determinations for how to provide instruction based on local coronavirus data.

Gina Rancitelli, UA Schools COVID nurse coordinator, reported that as of Nov. 23, 149 students were in quarantine and another 47 were out awaiting test results. That included 67 in quarantine at the elementary school level, 24 from the middle schools and 58 from the high school.

As for staff, Laura Mickens, district assistant treasurer, said 10% to 12% at UAHS were in quarantine. Those numbers were 8% to 10% for middle school and “probably under 6%” for the elementary school, respectively.

Kathleen Jenney, UA Schools associate superintendent of human resources and operations, said the number of staff absences is unprecedented for the district and said at times only about half of those classes are being covered due to a shortage of available substitute teachers.

Jenney and Andy Hatton, the district’s associate superintendent of learning and leadership, said the situation has resulted in principals – and in one case a secretary – being forced to cover classrooms. Additionally, multiple classes have been brought together into school auditoriums.

“They’re basically just being supervised,” Hatton said.

After starting the school year in the same Enhanced Distance Learning model, Upper Arlington students have attended school under a hybrid model since Sept. 21.

Under the hybrid model, students were placed in two cohorts so that roughly half of students attend in-person classes Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half go to school buildings Thursdays and Fridays.

The lone opponent to moving back to the a full remote-learning model was board member Lori Trent, who said the move was in contrast to both the recommendations of county and local health officials, as well as what other local districts are doing. She added that if the district moves to full remote-learning now, it won’t move back to hybrid after the holiday break.  

“The majority of people at this point are staying in hybrid,” Trent said. “I feel like we really need to keep our elementary kids in hybrid.”  

Imhoff countered by saying other districts “are still meeting and discussing” how to provide instruction following Thanksgiving, but that Columbus City Schools, as well as the Southwestern, Westerville and Worthington school districts are operating under full remote-learning models.

He added the Upper Arlington Schools Medical Advisory Team “is in alignment” with the decision to go to full remote-learning “and Franklin County Public Health did urge all school districts to have conversations about this” and make decisions based on local data.

In addition to finalizing a strategy for special-needs students, Imhoff said the district is working on a plan in which the district would offer “supervision within our schools on a reservation basis” to younger students whose parents cannot be with them due to work or other obligations during the school day. He said that service could be in place “as early as January.”

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate