More schools go remote as staffing shortages, COVID cases surge

Dayton, Tipp City and Lebanon join several others; some schools will stay remote all next week

At least a half-dozen local school districts are going back to remote learning — some for a couple days, some for more than a week — to address staffing shortages and to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

Dayton Public Schools announced plans to have virtual learning on Thursday and Friday, due to a “recent increase in absences due to illness.” Teachers will send work home with students and district buildings will be closed, according to a message from DPS Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli. Students will not have to log on for classwork, the district said.

Tipp City schools plans to be remote from Thursday through Friday, Jan. 21, according to a message from Superintendent Mark Stefanik, also citing a wave of absences.

“We apologize for any inconvenience or hardship this decision places on families; however, our goal is to provide the safest and most meaningful educational experience for your child(ren),” Stefanik said in the message.

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Fairborn, West Carrollton and Northridge announced plans earlier this week to be fully remote for one or multiple days this week. Valley Forge Elementary School in Huber Heights is remote this week, and Lebanon High School will go remote from Thursday through all of next week due to “the high number of staff absences.”

COVID-19 cases have continued to rise in the region, with 19,611 new cases reported in Ohio in the last 24 hours. Compared to 60 days ago, COVID hospitalizations are up 168% and ICU admissions have increased 73%, according to the Ohio Hospital Association.

Dayton Public School students and staff will return to in-person classes on Tuesday, Jan. 18, the day after the Martin Luther King Day holiday.

“We hope that this time at home will give everyone an opportunity to get well,” Lolli said.

For DPS students, school is still in session on Wednesday, Jan. 12, and students will get breakfast and lunch bags for Thursday and Friday before leaving school on Wednesday, according to the district.

The Huber Heights School Board met on Monday to discuss reinstating a mask mandate for the district, but ultimately did not. Superintendent Mario Basora said staffing shortages have led to the need to close Valley Forge Elementary School, which is expected to return to in-person learning next Tuesday.

Some parents pleaded with the Huber Heights school board on Monday night not to send kids home.

“‘It’s confusing and creates behavioral issues, which makes it harder not just on the students, but for the teachers and staff too,” said Angela Fannin, whose son is in middle school.

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Basora said having kids in school is necessary for both teachers and students.

“We need our kids in the building,” Basora said. “We do not want them at home. We know from the past two years the damage that causes for students.”

Huber Heights has added tutors to schools to catch kids up in reading and math after they fell behind in 2020.

In Lebanon, in addition to the high school going remote for over a week, the district is reinstating a mask mandate from Wednesday through Jan. 31, as student absence rates have risen to 17 percent, according to Superintendent Isaac Seevers.

“While our high school teachers are teaching remotely, we plan to utilize non-teaching staff at the high school in our other buildings to help fill in where we cannot find substitutes,” Seevers said in a message to parents. “The high school is best equipped to go to a remote model because students already have their devices and that group of students can pivot more easily to being home alone and learning online.”

Other districts are staying in-person despite a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.

Centerville and Kettering school districts have both seen sharp spikes in the number of positive COVID cases since returning to in-person classes this month, records show.

Centerville and Kettering school data show nearly 30% of the positive coronavirus cases for the whole school year have come in the past 10 days. Each district recorded more than 250 new COVID cases last week, according to the school districts’ websites.

Kettering is “monitoring student and staff attendance daily. We strongly believe students and staff perform best when learning in person,” district spokeswoman Kari Basson said in an email Tuesday.

“Currently, our student and staff attendance rates are not at levels that would make Kettering consider remote learning,” she added. “We are committed to continuing to provide safe, high-quality, in-person learning as long as we can maintain student and staff attendance rates.”

Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said late Tuesday afternoon in an email that “there has been no discussion about switching our learning mode to remote.”

Kettering Superintendent Scott Inskeep said in a video on the district’s website Monday that “we have come back with a high increase in COVID-19 and the SARS showing up at so many levels in both the schools and the public environments that we’re in.”

While saying Kettering officials want to “keep our faculty, students and families safe,” Inskeep made no specific mention of remote learning.

But he encouraged parents “if you are sensing anything, please keep your child home.”

“We really feel and we hope that this next month to six weeks is a very challenging time for all of us (and) that we will be to the other side after that four to six weeks,” Inskeep said.

Kristen Spicker and Nancy Bowman contributed to this report.