The Board of Education decided to move to a distance learning model for the remainder of the first semester in a 5-0 vote during their special meeting Friday, Dec. 4.
The switch to a remote learning model was effective Monday, Dec. 7 and will continue until the end of first semester Friday, Dec. 18. The district plans to return to a hybrid learning model in January with the start of second semester.
The decision was made in response to a recommendation from the Evaluation Team comprised of Bexley residents and school staff who compile and assess data to determine the best learning model in response to COVID-19 changes. The Evaluation Team decided to make this recommendation at a Thursday, Dec. 3 meeting based on an increase in staff absences and a lack of substitute teachers able to fill all the positions.
Superintendent Dan Good said that in addition to absences in a normal year, teachers are absent for COVID-19 reasons, such as quarantining or positive test results. He added that teachers are also missing for sick leave, doctor’s appointments, supporting parents who have been affected by the pandemic, Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the FFCRA includes 10 extra paid leave days provided by the federal government with a pay cut and the FMLA includes unpaid, job-protected leaves for specific family and medical reasons with continued group health insurance coverage.
“Our teachers are missing, but they are missing time for the right reasons,” Good said. “They are staying home when they are symptomatic, they’re following the Board’s safety protocols [and] they’re paying heed to quarantine requirements.”
Good said the district’s ability to fill positions caused by teacher absences has decreased from 90% the week of Monday, Nov. 8 to 69% the week of Monday, Nov. 29. When a school is unable to find a substitute teacher for a class, each period has to be filled by a teacher during their planning period, he explained. He said that filling in classes puts a strain on teachers because they lose time to plan and grade.
“When teachers have to use their planning periods to cover classes where there are no qualified professionals, the system then experiences more than stress,” Good said.
Teachers have to make several education plans for A day, B day, and quarantined students, so the addition of filling in periods and losing time to work in school has put added stress on them, Good said.
Good added that the reason for switching learning modes is less about the spread of COVID-19 and more about the capacity of the school system. Required masks and social distancing have been successful at preventing the spread of germs in the classroom, he said.
“The team’s conclusion so far is that, even as cases rise locally, our classrooms have remained safe in hybrid mode due to the masks and distancing,” Good said. “Bexley schools are not alone in this conclusion. Other districts that are able to practice masking and distancing have also seen that their classrooms remain safe.”
Despite the switch to remote learning, specialized services, nurses and the library will still be open, and some staff will still be in the building, he said.
Good explained that the district will be providing wellness checks and child care opportunities as well to compensate for problems caused by remote learning. The wellness check will be conducted for each family every week by a social worker, guidance counselor, or qualified staff member to ensure that students’ mental and emotional health is not compromised by distance learning, and the district will also be supporting the Bexley Rec’s child care opportunities by using school staff members to help run the programs, he said.
While the district does want students to be in the building, remote learning will alleviate the stress on teachers so that they can provide better learning opportunities, he said.
“It really cannot be stressed enough that Bexley City Schools wants our students physically in our buildings to learn alongside our incredible teachers and staff,” Good said. “Each decision that we make is with the intention to do what’s best for our students and their academic, their social and emotional wellbeing.”