Lakewood City Schools' "Access Point" Program Puts Students And School Employees At Risk

Several weeks ago Lakewood City Schools launched a program called “Access Point” to help students struggling to learn remotely. Most residents haven't heard of it. It allows children to come into the closed school buildings to receive help from building employees who are not teachers, but members of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees union. In normal times they hold positions like classroom and library aides, cafeteria workers and recess monitors. 

During the pandemic their jobs have been things like packaging and sending breakfasts and lunches home, providing library services and assisting teachers with their remote classes on zoom calls. 

In November many of them received an email letting them know they had been drafted into the new Access Point program. They received no warning, little to no training, and were given no choice about participating in it. 

The plan calls for them to meet with individual children— for 90 minutes at a time-- with sometimes as many as ten per session—to help them with school work.

At issue is what “helping with school work” means.

“We can’t teach them; we don’t have that training,” said an Access Point employee last week. “We’re supposed to monitor them, like study hall monitors.”

But some of the students, especially the youngest ones, need more than monitoring. They need help. 

Even though they are not teachers, building employees, like any parent, can sit down with a child and try to help. But they can’t do it from six feet away. 

Which puts them in an impossible situation.

Though official emails inform them that they must stay six feet apart, in practice they are encouraged to work closely with students who need it as it is the only way they can actually be helped.

And so they are. They are sitting right next to struggling students, for 90 minutes at a time. “We were told to ‘help them get their stuff done’ and that they need to improve their grades,” says the employee. Helping a student requires that the helper can see what the student is working on and in some cases, show them what to do.

Students who need actual hands-on help are exposed for 90 minutes at a time, at much closer than 6 feet, to helpers, who have been exposed to students before and after them. 

The flaw with this system became obvious during the first week of the program when one child with Covid19 caused a whole elementary school to shut down.

LCS Administration is aware of the situation. It shut down the program for a week after Thanksgiving, then reopened with new plexiglass barriers. 

But as photos show, while students and teachers are wearing masks, they are sitting, with heads together, on the same side of the barrier, causing them to share breathing space in even more confined areas. 

Schools must have dashboards listing all Covid cases—staff and students— within the district. In the most recent listing, LCS reported 15 positive cases, 26 quarantining. The previous week, 30 positives were reported with 83 quarantining. And this is while the schools are “closed."

How many of these are from the Access Point program is not clear, but in a time when Covid cases are at record highs, especially in Lakewood, this program needs rethinking.

Volume 16, Issue 24, Posted 12:20 PM, 12.16.2020