Dayton schools back in-person; Lolli vows DPS is there to stay

Students at Ruskin Prek-8 School returned to classes Monday March 1, 2021 after nearly a year out of school because of COVID-19.
Caption
Students at Ruskin Prek-8 School returned to classes Monday March 1, 2021 after nearly a year out of school because of COVID-19.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Most Dayton Public Schools students returned to in-person classes Monday, jumping straight from a COVID-inspired fully online model to five days a week in their normal classrooms.

Dayton’s school year will go through June to make up for multiple missed weeks around the holidays. Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said there will be a very short summer break, then next school year will start around mid-August.

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“We are a school district that needs to be face to face,” Lolli said. “I’m not taking a step backward unless the governor closes us down again. And I don’t anticipate he’s going to do that because he’s worked so hard to get everybody open again.”

Since March 15, 2020, most Dayton students who wanted to attend school in person have only been able to do so for a few days in mid-November. There have been exceptions for certain career tech and arts students.

Dayton schools started the fall fully online, then briefly went hybrid in mid-November. When state and local COVID case rates surged, DPS was the only district to shut down completely (no in-person and no online) from Nov. 23 through Jan. 3. Since Jan. 4, most students have been learning remotely.

Lolli said student attendance levels were near expectations Monday. About 25% of DPS students have decided to stay with fully online learning for now, matching the rates in Centerville and Northmont.

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“We expect more to continue to come as they see that it’s safer than what they anticipated,” Lolli said. “We’re pleased that it was a rather smooth start.”

Busing has been a years-long problem for DPS, and Lolli said the district was able to cover all morning bus routes. But according to messages sent to parents, multiple routes were uncovered in the afternoon, requiring parents to pick up their children at school. That has been a frequent problem for several local school districts this year, as they struggle to find enough drivers.

Trotwood-Madison high school and middle school students also restarted in-person classes Monday, going with a four days a week model. And Northridge and Yellow Springs students returned to half-time in-person classes for the first time.

“Our team put a great plan in place and with all hands on deck, we made it happen,” Northridge Superintendent Dave Jackson said. “It was so exciting (to have kids back).”

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These March 1 returns came in part because Gov. Mike DeWine asked districts to commit to that date if they wanted their staff to get coronavirus vaccines in February.

More than 90% of Dayton-area K-12 students now have the option of attending school in-person four or five days a week. But COVID-related problems remain. Huber Heights schools, which are four days a week, called a remote learning day Monday “due to staffing shortages across the district.”

Dayton teachers union President David Romick said DPS’ first day went fairly smoothly. He did say “some class size issues need to be balanced out” to allow for social distancing.

For example, if one third-grade class had several students choose to stay online and the neighboring class had none, the school may switch a few students to even out the two rooms and avoid overcrowding.

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Romick said class balancing is an issue even in a normal year, adding that Monday had some of that fall “first day of school” feeling.

Lolli acknowledged that there are a large number of students who are nervous about returning because they haven’t been in school for a year. She said teachers, principals, counselors and student resiliency coordinators are there to help.

“I would suggest the parents contact us, let us know what their concerns are, and we can circle the wagons around that child and make them feel very, very comfortable,” Lolli said.