Why K-12 leaders believe latest big shift to remote learning is only temporary

Staffing shortages forced Jefferson County Public Schools, the largest district in Kentucky, to go fully remote Tuesday.
By: | January 11, 2022
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Despite the nationwide push to keep students learning in person amid omicron, more and more districts are shifting to temporary remote instruction due, in particular, to staff shortages.

Of course, student infections are also playing a role this week as some large districts—including Cincinnati Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky, the Rochester City School District in New York and The School District of Philadelphia—have closed some or all classrooms through the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, if not longer.

Staffing shortages forced Jefferson County Public Schools, the largest district in Kentucky, to go fully remote Tuesday, with administrators hoping to reopen classrooms on Jan. 18.

“It was a beyond-difficult situation for our schools and staff to continue to hold classes in a safe and efficient manner each and every day at school,” Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said in a video on the district’s website. “We are struggling, just like so many corporations and entities, to staff our schools effectively. We definitely want to get our kids in school and make sure we’re able to do it safely, and effectively, so we can provide instruction.”

The district will distribute meals while regional centers provide drive-up COVID during the closure.

Cincinnati Public Schools is making a lengthier shift to remote learning, with students expected back on Jan. 24 “if staffing levels are sufficient to safely reopen schools,” administrators said.

In the West, Great Falls Public Schools in Montana has moved to remote learning and expects to reopen classrooms on Jan. 18. District leaders made the decision when the “substitute fill rate” fell below 46%, which meant more than 50 district classrooms lacked a substitute. As of noon Monday, 185 students and staff had confirmed cases of COVID, the highest rate for the 2021-22 school year.


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In Oregon, Parkrose School District has shifted to remote learning through Jan. 21 due to staffing shortages. Indian Hills Elementary in the Hillsboro School District and Durham Elementary School in the Tigard-Tualatin School District have moved to virtual learning until Jan. 18. Portland Public Schools has moved a few of its buildings to remote learning through Jan. 14.

“This current wave of the virus placed unprecedented strain on our school system to provide in-person instruction,” Parkrose Superintendent Michael Lopes Serrao said. “This is only temporary and we are hopeful to be back in person in a couple of weeks.”

The Adams 14 district in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has moved to virtual learning until Jan. 14.

On the East Coast, where the omicron wave began, The School District of Philadelphia has moved 91 of its more than 330 schools to virtual learning until at least Jan. 18. Also in Pennsylvania, The School District of Harrisburg in the state’s capital has also moved to virtual instruction this week.

Staff absences have forced The Rochester City School District in New York is to place 21 schools on remote learning until next week. See DA’s COVID tracker for a more comprehensive list of school closures.