The new year has presented a challenge for local teachers, including in Cincinnati Public Schools. Our members led the way in COVID vaccinations last spring to safely get back in classrooms with our students. More than 94% of our members are fully vaccinated. But as the more infectious Omicron variant spread here over the holidays, less serious breakthrough infections took their toll on the entire CPS staff, as it has throughout the city.
Hundreds were out sick or required to quarantine. In too many schools there were no nurses to test or care for students; too many students had no teachers in their classrooms; custodians who sanitize classrooms were absent; and many of the security guards trusted to keep students safe were out too. Student attendance sagged, as many parents became reluctant to send their children to understaffed schools. Schools were "open," but with so many absences not much education was happening.
Anticipating this staffing crisis, the interim superintendent, only recently chosen by the school board, recommended at the Jan. 3 board meeting that CPS temporarily shift to remote instruction. The board, at a meeting the public could only watch remotely, deferred any action. After a week of mounting chaos in schools, the board accepted her recommendation a week later, with only one dissenting vote. CPS returned to classrooms on Monday. While I supported the superintendent’s recommendation at the board’s remote meeting on Jan. 10, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers was not even consulted by the interim superintendent before her recommendation to temporarily go remote.
Nevertheless, in a Jan. 17 Enquirer article, Jason Williams and CPS Board member Eve Bolton blamed CFT for this temporary shift to remote instruction. Williams and Bolton failed to note, as The Enquirer separately reported, that UC, NKU and about half of local school districts also had COVID-related in-person shutdowns, including in Covington, Hamilton and Anderson Township. CFT does not represent teachers in any of those districts.
As AFT National President Randi Weingarten recently noted in The New York Times, "educators know that being in school is essential to children’s mental, social emotional and academic well-being." Many of us are parents too. Like so many CPS parents, we need our kids to be in school so we can do our own jobs. While none of us wanted to revert to online learning, our members reported much higher attendance and engagement during these last few days, compared to the chaos during the first week of the year, with so many staff and students absent.
So CFT did not initiate a return to remote instruction. But we have consistently urged the district to use the many millions received from federal COVID aid to recruit and hire more teachers, full-time subs, nurses and other staff needed to fill the vacancies we knew would be required to keep schools safely open. We have urged CPS to actually follow its COVID safety protocols, like consistent classroom sanitizing and student testing. Instead, CPS keeps adding more layers of highly paid administrators, rather than the teachers, nurses and staff that directly serve students. The public deserves a full accounting of how federal COVID dollars have been spent.
Through nearly two years of pandemic, CPS teachers have supported students in every way we can, while trying to keep all CPS families healthy. They are exhausted, overwhelmed, and burning out, just like so many parents and, the health care workers now coping with yet another flood of the unvaccinated into emergency rooms and ICUs. So, when we are attacked by anonymous critics on Twitter, a local political reporter, and even a member of our school board (which continues to only meet remotely with the public), you can imagine how teachers react.
Mr. Williams, Ms. Bolton, and all you social media warriors, stop blaming teachers for the consequences of a worldwide pandemic, unnecessarily prolonged here by disinformation and resistance to commonsense preventatives like masking and lifesaving vaccines. If you want to be part of the solution, rather than just carp from the sidelines, urge the 40% of still unvaccinated local residents to get their jabs. Maybe sign up to be a substitute teacher. We sure could use the help.
Julie Sellers is president of the Cincinnati of Teachers.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: Stop blaming teachers for COVID frustrations