AKRON, Ohio — Students in the Akron Public School system received more failing grades in the Fall of 2020 than they did the Fall of 2019, data from the district shows.
News 5 reached out to the district to see how students were doing in full remote learning versus their performance in traditional classroom settings.
Akron is one of the larger districts in Northeast Ohio that is still fully remote for a majority of students. Earlier this week, however, students with the highest amount of need for one-on-one learning were allowed back in classrooms for the first time since mid-March 2020.
But for thousands of students in the Akron district, they've been learning behind a computer screen for the last 11 months. An end to remote learning could be in sight for all students if the vaccine rollout for teachers moves at the fastest timeline, but one parent is worried the learning deficit her daughters face from long-term remote schooling may impact them during their entire school tenure.
"Honestly, if they don't go back, I will be switching them out of our public schools," said Samantha Callen. "It's extremely frustrating. We love Hatton. And we love the teachers and everybody there -- the staff is great. And the students are great, but they both want to be in school."
Callen, a mom of four, was sitting on her couch in late January surrounded by her kids. Her two oldest were on their lunch break from elementary school classes with APS.
"I've looked into other districts at the beginning of the year and a lot of them weren't taking students outside of the district because of everything going on," she said about her attempts to get her daughters in a traditional classroom setting for the 2020-2021 school year. "So that kind of crashed on me."
Callen acknowledges remote learning may work for some families, but it is not for hers.
"They're failing. They are. They're failing," Callen said. "She's behind in her reading. She's behind in her math ... It's just really frustrating all the way around."
As a mom, Callen said the quarantine has put added stress of the family because there is nowhere for them to go.
"And mentally its taken its toll on me," she said.
Her oldest daughter, third grader Ellee, knows remote learning isn't working for her.
"I just don't like it," she said. "I feel okay, but I feel like ... I guess I will be a lot better in school."
Ellee is quiet but determined to be a good student. Sitting at a desk in her sister's room for the start of her afternoon math class, Ellee was concerned about getting the addition, subtraction and multiplication problems correct. She is a quiet student and the remote learning setting is daunting.
"I struggled a lot with my stuff and I didn't get as much help as I needed because she had to help a lot of other kids," Ellee said about vying for teacher attention over a video call.
Ellee and her sister are not alone. Data requested from News 5 shows a district-wide increase in failing grades recorded for the Fall 2020 semester. There was a 6% increase in F grades given for language arts subjects, almost 9% more in math and nearly 8.5% increase in career tech classes. The data does show small increases in A grades given to students in the district from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020. A .3% increase for language arts classes and a .4% increase in math. But a decrease of almost 5% in career tech classes.
Akron District Superintendent of Schools David James knows students are struggling.
"So our plan is to then work with our staff to look at how we can help kids do some academic recovery, you know, looking at that over the summer and then into the start of the Fall," he said.
Twice so far this school year, the district asked parents to fill out an online survey to gauge public opinion about remaining closed. Callen said she filled it out both times. Each time telling the district she wanted her students in classrooms.
The most recent survey window closed on January 29.
"So the latest survey that we've looked at were more split," James said. "You know, we have some folks who want to continue with online learning and then we have others who want to come back in."
That in-school learning option may become a reality for parents soon now that the district is getting teachers vaccinated against COVID-19.
While Callen is questioning if she wants her kids to go back to the Akron Public Schools, the district is currently considering a phased in-approach to opening schools. This first round of initial vaccine doses will go to teachers of the youngest students first.
"We just went to the side of caution in this," James said. "We might not be 100% satisfied, but we are very concerned about our kids. The other thing is that we have to be concerned about our employees as well."
Initial doses are scheduled to be distributed Saturday but there is a supply issue. So far, 3,000 employees in the district say they want vaccines, but the district received less than half of what was needed. Around 780 doses will go out during this first round.
With the waiting time between first and second doses and the amount of time fully vaccinated people have to wait to be considered completely inoculated, James said Akron Public Schools is looking to open doors for some students in late March — at best — which overshoots Gov. Mike DeWine's ask for all schools to be open by March 1. If vaccine doses are delayed or if there is an issue with received doses, it could be April before a portion of students can go back. "So we're keeping our fingers crossed," James said about the timing for vaccinations.
But Callen is done waiting.
"I feel like I've been failing as a mom," she said.
Akron Public Schools: 5 - Complied with all information requests in a reasonable time frame
Provided grading data and an on-camera interview in a reasonable time frame.