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Superintendent’s Message and Presentation from Columbus Public Health

Dr. Talisa Dixon provided her Superintendent's Report along with a presentation from Columbus Public Health at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, October 6. Below is the text of her remarks.

As everyone knows, my administration is all hands on deck working diligently to finalize the details and logistics of our return to in person, blended-learning plans. 

Since we have made the decision to return to blended learning, I, of course, have been asked many times about the details of the full plan.  And I know that, Board Members, you too have been asked these questions.  

One of the many, many difficult circumstances we find ourselves in as a result of the ongoing COVID pandemic as it relates to operating the largest public school district in Ohio is:  information and factors impacting decisions change rapidly. They change from month-to-month, week-to-week, and even day-to-day.  

As a result,  and this is the challenging part, we all have to function and operate with a strong commitment to patience and flexibility. That includes both in our professional lives as providers of education for 50,000 children – and also in our personal lives – as parents and families doing their best to navigate their child’s education during an ongoing pandemic. 

I will be the first to say it is not always easy.  On some days, the challenges can feel insurmountable. However, I do continue to have great faith and belief in our students and their families that they can meet these challenges, especially if CCS continues to provide ongoing support. 

I have great admiration and belief in our teachers that they are rising up to the occasion to provide the best education possible, just as they are doing now in the fully remote setting, and as I know they will do in the blended learning model. 

And I have great respect and faith that our staff including bus drivers, food service workers, nurses, secretaries, and custodians are committed partners to serving our students and providing a safe environment for our students and staff. 

And last, but not least, I have faith in the tremendous work underway by my cabinet and management team that is working nonstop to provide the best and most effective plan for our students to return to the buildings safely and effectively under the parameters of state and locals mandates, transportation requirements, health directives and guidance. 

When I am asked, ‘Dr. Dixon, please provide us with the details of the plan,” I’m not able to provide the answer they may want at this time. 

It’s important for me to take a minute – as I do when I’m asked this question on Zoom or in an email or on the phone – to discuss the many, many factors involved to returning in a hybrid manner for our 50,000 children. 

Breakfast and lunch is a critical issue – not that we will provide free nutritious meals, but how we provide them.  We are working through the ODE and CPH guidelines for children to be provided the food safely and to then eat their breakfast and lunch safely, socially distanced from one-another and with supervision.  And we are developing plans to provide those meals for the three days that students will work remotely from home after their two days in person.  There are many, many details and logistics. 

We also are working with our excellent community partners who help provide services not only during the school day for many of our students, but also critical important services before the school day and after the school day, such as latchkey, tutoring, afterschool meals and snacks, preparation for taking the SATs and college applications to name just a few. 

These organizations, like CCS, are restricted in their program delivery by the need to implement social distancing. We are working with these groups to coordinate and develop plans and programming for our students that meet federal, state and local requirements. There are many, many details and logistics.

As many of you know, because blended-learning results in changes to the work day and conditions of parts of our employment contracts with our Labor partners, we must negotiate with our Labor Partners, and these agreements are critical to finalizing our blended learning plans. We appreciate the opportunity for these discussions and the input from our Labor partners in our planning as we always have critical discussions that result in the best conditions for our teachers and staff and the best education delivery for our students.  

We are underway with these negotiations sessions with the Labor leaders representing our teachers – in fact there was a session yesterday and again this afternoon. And our team is meeting tomorrow morning with Labor leaders representing our bus drivers, food service workers and custodial workers. There are many, many details and logistics. 

Another huge factor that impacts our finalizing plans is transportation. As most everyone knows, not only do we transport our CCS students, but we are also required by law to route transportation for some 13,000 charter and non-public school children. In many, if not the majority of those cases, these are smaller schools in terms of the number of students when compared to our 50,000 students. Why that is important is that means many of these charter and non-public schools are returning five days a week as they are able to social distance smaller student population in their buildings. That requires a tremendously complicated bus routing schedule with many, many details and logistics. 

These are just a few of the many factors that must be planned and impact our decision-making and finalizing the blended-learning plan. It is important for parents, families and all staff to have a brief understanding of our process, and why they may not have received information as soon as they would like. 

But, let me say this loud and clear:

I, and this Board, are committed to providing detailed communications to families, teachers, staff, and our community partners when the plan if finalized, and we have all the I’s dotted and Ts crossed. 

I am committed to detailed and frequent communications as we indicated last week. 

This information will include information about student and parent orientation about how the school buildings will be physically set up and how they will operate with the new health and safety protocols. 

The detailed communications will include what the school day will look like for a student in various grade levels, how they will interact with their teacher, and eat breakfast and lunch. 

The communications will provide, of course, transportation plans – not only routes and pick up and drop off times, but the new COVID health and safety protocols that must be followed on the bus.  

I know and understand that we do not always provide information to our families as quickly as they would like.  I understand that can be quite frustrating. But I ask for understanding from our families while at the same time as I make the commitment, along with the Board of Education, that when our Blended Learning plan is finalized, we will provide frequent and detailed communications and updates. We will continue to also provide information via our virtual Community Engagement sessions for parents and families. And we will continue to provide ways for families to ask questions and seek assistance. 

Finally, I also can say this evening with certainty that CCS – with the help from our teachers, staff, Board and community partners – will continue to provide and deliver the best possible academic plan for our students while doing all we can to help keep them safe and healthy under the guise of the ongoing pandemic. 

As the CCS community hears me say frequently, the health and safety of our students and their families, and all of our employees, and the greater community, now more than ever, is our top priority. 

To that end, this evening, we have invited Columbus Public Health to join our meeting to discuss the status of COVID-19 and the infection rate within our attendance boundaries. I believe it’s important that we all understand this information to help understand this factor that impacted our decision to return to the buildings with blended learning.  And also, to hear all the protocols being implemented to prepare for our return including everyone wearing masks, social distancing steps, and physical changes to building and classroom space such as the installation of plexiglass dividers and the set up of desks in the classroom. 

Tonight we will hear from Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts and Director of Public Health Policy Edward Johnson, as well as our own Director of Health, Family, and Community Services Dr. Kate King.

Please watch the above video for the continuation of the presentation.