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More Columbus Students Return To Classrooms As Teacher Vaccinations Continue

CCS Superintendent Talisa Dixon talks to a student during a return to in-person learning last week..
Columbus City Schools
CCS Superintendent Talisa Dixon talks to a student during a return to in-person learning last week..

Columbus City Schools welcomes back 4th and 5th graders this week for its new blended learning schedule. Last week, the largest public school district in Ohio opened its doors for pre-K through 3rd graders for some in-person learning.

Students are divided into two groups, each attending class at their school building two days a week. The other three days, students learn remotely.

“I’ve been visiting classrooms, and to see the lessons come alive it’s been really nice to see,” says Columbus City Schools superintendent Talisa Dixon. “I think our teachers have really prepared our students for the adjustment.”

Dixon says 84% of expected pre-K through 3rd grade students attended classes on the first day.

“We have our students that are engaged now with their teachers face-to-face, whereas before they were doing everything remotely,” Dixon says.

Columbus teachers began receiving the coronavirus vaccine last week, as Ohio expanded eligibility to school staff in the hopes of returning all students to classrooms. Dixon says her goal is to have every teacher get the first vaccination dose by February 18.

Since closing in March, the district has spent about $15 million in federal CARES Act funding, which went to things like personal protective equipment and broadband for students needing internet access. Dixon says the district purchased about 1.6 million masks for students and teachers, and each building is stocked with a 90-day supply of PPE.

“If any building needs additional PPE we have that ready to distribute to buildings as needed,” Dixon says.

More than $20 million remains in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding.

“We wanted to make sure families felt safe sending their students and that teachers felt safe returning to the building,” Dixon says. “And again, that we had all of our PPE, our protocol and mitigation strategies in place.”

John Coneglio, president of the Columbus Education Association, says he hasn’t heard many teacher concerns about the return to the classroom. However, he anticipates problems could occur down the road.

“Everybody’s on top of it right now,” Coneglio says. “What does three weeks look like from now? What does six weeks, what does the rest of the year look like in making sure that all those health and safety protocols are followed?”

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.