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'Back to school' means continuing challenges for teachers, parents, and students

The Ohio Supreme Court is considering the role of the school bus driver for student safety.

Kids are already getting back to school and a big portion of local districts are starting back next week. To talk about the challenges facing schools, parents and students, WYSO’s Jerry Kenney spoke with Dayton Daily News Education Reporter, Eileen McClory.

Eileen McClory: School districts have been preparing all summer for students to come back to school. I mean, teachers have hopefully been taking a good amount of rest after this past school year, which was really hard on both students and teachers and parents. A lot of school districts have just been cleaning classrooms, setting things up, hiring more teachers, bus drivers, and replacing staff who might have left last year. Updating their plans to keep kids safe in schools.

Jerry Kenney: I know a lot of COVID money has come to school districts. How have they described their efforts there?

Yeah. Schools got millions of dollars from CARES Act and ARPA funding. They also got some additional dollars that the state gave them from their share of COVID funding. At least 20% of their funding from the federal government has to be spent on learning loss, so they are required to do that. Obviously, all of these school districts are spending money on tutoring. I did a story recently about how schools are using summer camps to kind of catch kids up who may have fallen even further behind and also get them prepared for this upcoming school year. A lot of school districts are also using it to hire additional teachers. Dayton Public Schools is a really great example of this. They hired about 100 teachers last year to add to their first to third grade classrooms, and they have a double teaching model with that. So, they have two teachers in each classroom, which decreases the students/teacher ratio. So, it's about like one [teacher] to 10 [students] now instead of one or 20. And that also allows the teachers to give more individualized time to the students who might need it more.

Kenney: You are reporting that schools are actually partnering with some mental health agencies and professionals to try and undo some damage that may have been caused.

McClory: I'm not doing that story myself, but I have written about this quite a lot, so I'm happy to talk about it. Sam Wildow, who is our health care reporter, is the person who is reporting on how mental health care is helping schools right now. Schools have been partnering with Nationwide Children's. There are a couple other organizations here locally that they've been partnering with to make sure that therapists are on staff, that those therapists are available to students. There are some schools that are also doing some additional classes in how to identify your emotions and feel your emotions, but not have them overwhelm you.

Everyone in the school districts right now is really concerned about students’ mental health, and even at the best students, we're dealing with an unprecedented amount of fear and insecurity around this pandemic that nobody really knew how to deal with. I think for a lot of students, too, they also had, you know, housing insecurity. They also had parents who might have gotten sick, or maybe somebody in their family died, or maybe a close friend or some of them may have gotten sick and are still dealing with the aftereffects of COVID. So, schools are definitely aware and keeping track of students’ mental health and just how they can help students the best.

Kenney: Is there anything else that you see that our listeners in particular would want to know about?

McClory: Yeah, I mean, there's all kinds of issues coming up this school year. I mean, like I said, last school year was just so hard for absolutely everyone and I think some of those issues, unfortunately, are just going to continue. One of the ones that I wrote about recently was school security and how schools are keeping students safe. You know, we ended last school year with the shooting in Texas at Robb Elementary, which was very tragic, and a lot of schools did change some of their protocols around, and then Ohio also passed a House bill 99, which allowed teachers to carry guns in schools. That story that I wrote last week didn't find very many schools taking advantage of that law. A lot of districts are simply relying on police and their own security systems. But the state has also given schools several million dollars to improve their own security system. So that's a huge topic that I think people will think about.

Kenney: Eileen McClory is an education reporter with the Dayton Daily News. Thanks so much and we look forward to more reporting on this story.

McClory: Thank you so much for having me.

*You’ll see more of McClory’s reporting in the Sunday edition of the Dayton Daily News focusing on a national shortage of teachers taking place.

Dayton Daily News

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials. In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.