Aug 15, 2022 - News

Central Ohio schools finding a "new normal"

Illustration of two masked students walking out of a laptop.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

For the first time in two years, Central Ohio's first days of school aren't being eclipsed by debates about masks, social distancing and online learning.

Why it matters: The pandemic upended education as we knew it, affecting students both socially and academically. While COVID-19 isn't gone, we're learning to live with it, giving students a chance to start recovering and regrouping.

State of play: This is the first full year in which COVID vaccines are available to every kid.

  • The state will no longer track cases in schools.
  • There are no local mask mandates and the plan is for students to be in classrooms every day, district leaders tell Axios.

Yes, but: That was also the plan last year — until a new Omicron variant forced many schools back online due to a lack of substitutes for sick teachers and bus drivers.

  • While educators' concerns about staffing shortages persist, local superintendents are optimistic learning can continue uninterrupted.

What they're saying: "Since long before COVID, our job in schools has been to figure out where kids are when we get them and move them forward," Hilliard superintendent David Stewart tells Axios. "COVID hasn't changed that."

The big picture: It may take years for some students to recover from pandemic-era learning loss, per a July NWEA report.

Meanwhile, districts are increasingly expected to help with other challenges, such as growing mental health concerns and poverty.

  • From food pantries to health clinics, "school is more than just academics for a lot of our kids," Ohio School Counselor Association executive director Shawn Grimes tells Axios.

What we're watching: The state's school report cards for 2021-22 are due next month, providing a snapshot of last year's pandemic-era academic achievement. The reports will feature a new overall rating system of 1-5 stars.

The bottom line: "I still don't think we know what our 'new normal' is," Ohio School Boards Association executive director Rick Lewis tells Axios, " … but this will be closer than anything we've had in the last 24 months."

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