Dayton area largely avoids national drama on school reopening: Here’s how

Teacher Melissa Vozar sits outside of Suder Elementary in Chicago to teach a virtual class Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Chicago Public Schools students began their return to the classroom Monday as school doors opened to thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students. (Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Teacher Melissa Vozar sits outside of Suder Elementary in Chicago to teach a virtual class Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Chicago Public Schools students began their return to the classroom Monday as school doors opened to thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students. (Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Credit: Anthony Vazquez

Credit: Anthony Vazquez

A majority of Dayton-area schools are open for in-person classes four or five days a week, making the region stand in a national debate on school reopenings while the COVID-19 pandemic is still underway.

Communities around the country are debating school access vs. school safety. President Joe Biden has said his goal is for the majority of U.S. school buildings to be open within his first 100 days in office, which would be by the end of April. He said during a Tuesday event that he wants K-8 schools open five days a week by April 30.

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In the Dayton area, 31 of 44 traditional public school districts are open for in-person classes five full days a week. Centerville, Kettering, Huber Heights and Northmont are in-person four days a week, and Fairborn has older students there four days and K-5 students in-person five days.

That means more than 80% of students in Dayton-area public school districts have in-person classes available at least four days a week. Nearly all of those districts also offer fully-online programs too for students with medical vulnerabilities or other reasons to stay in remote learning.

Of the few local schools still fully online, Dayton Public Schools are scheduled to return to full in-person classes March 1. Northridge and Yellow Springs plan to start hybrid in-person models March 1. Trotwood has begun its transition to a four-day-a-week model, with the last students making the switch March 1. Jefferson Twp. schools plan to stay online through the end of the academic year.

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In comparison nationally, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Philadelphia schools remain fully online. Pittsburgh and Portland schools won’t come back in-person until April. The school district in Louisville was going to announce a reopening recommendation this week, but delayed it. Houston and Miami schools have been in-person since October.

Some reopening debates have gotten heated. The teachers union in Cincinnati Public Schools filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent a school reopening plan, but a judge rejected it. Chicago teachers threatened a strike, but agreed to return after bargaining for better in-school safety measures and higher vaccination priority.

David Romick, president of Dayton’s teachers union, said the fact that Dayton Public Schools staff will have gotten both of their vaccine doses before March 1 is “a crucial step” to reopening school buildings.

“It’s not only important to have students back in school. It’s even more important to do so in a way that ensures the continued health and safety of all of our stakeholders,” Romick told his school board this week. “We must faithfully implement required masking, distancing and sanitization protocols recommended by the CDC.”

Some of the recent debate about school reopening has come because of inconsistent messaging from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In late January, they released a data review which stated that while in-school COVID transmission does occur, it happens at a much lower rate than in the general community.

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On Feb. 12, the CDC released guidance that in-person school could generally be done safely if masking, distancing and other safety protocols were followed consistently. Then this week, the CDC released new guidance that said schools should take into account the rate of COVID community spread before making their decision.

One of the biggest challenges for schools trying to return to in-person classes is keeping a 3-foot or 6-foot distance between the students, teachers and staff. When students are attending school roughly half-time — like Mad River, West Carrollton and Oakwood currently are — that’s much easier to do, because only 35-50% of students are in the building at any one time.

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