Pandemic causes schools to write, rewrite opening plans

Empty swings at Westlake Elementary School. Photo by Diana Pi

On July 30, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH) made their recommendations on school reopening. Schools should operate remotely (virtual classes) and suspend all sports and extracurricular activities. CCBH’s health jurisdiction does not include the city of Cleveland.  

In the ensuing weeks, most county school districts (24 out of 26) – including Westlake and Bay Village – announced that they will start the fall semester remotely. Two exceptions:  Brecksville-Broadview Heights City School District plans on a hybrid model (2 days in-person alternating with 3 days online learning); Independence Local Schools offer parents and students the options of in-person or all-remote learning.

After receiving hundreds of emails and phone calls from the school community, Cuyahoga County’s health commissioner, Terry Allan, issued a letter on Aug. 5 to further explain their recommendation.

Allan said that Cuyahoga County had experienced a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases between mid-June and mid-July. The week his letter was written, Cuyahoga County had the highest hospitalization number in the state. Meanwhile, hospitalization and intensive care bed use continues to rise. In the 2019-2020 season, Cuyahoga County had less than 50 flu-related deaths; since March, COVID-19 has taken 523 lives (figure updated as of Aug. 14).

To re-open schools safely, Allan listed some (not all) parameters and concerns:

1. Positivity Rates – A sustained decline in COVID-19 testing positivity rates below 5%. 

2. New Case Reports – A sustained decline in new cases over a one-month period. 

3. State Public Health Advisory System – A risk rating of Orange/2 or below over multiple weeks, which must clearly indicate sustained improvement in the metrics. 

4. COVID-19 testing capacity for children – [The concern is] there is currently little to no testing available for those under the age of 18.

As of Aug. 13, Cuyahoga County is still in Red/3 zone – indicating very high exposure and spread. But moving from red to orange does not necessarily mean CCBH will lift their recommendation as risk rating is only one of the many factors they consider.

In his “Back to School Reopening Plan 2020,” Westlake superintendent, Dr. Scott Goggin, said Westlake grades PK-12 will start all-remote learning on Sept. 8. But the school is prepared for all three models of learning – virtual, hybrid, or in-person daily – and can transition from one model to another when appropriate.

Consideration will be given to those in special education, gifted services, English learners, and Title 1.

Contrary to CCBH recommendation, sports will continue in some form. Mr. Tony Cipollone, Westlake athletic director, said non-contact sports like golf and tennis have begun as scheduled. Other sports such as football, soccer, cross-country and volleyball have begun strength and conditioning training; but competitions are delayed. Contact sports like football and soccer will follow a modified Ohio High School Athletic Association Phase One precaution.

The COVID-19 situation is highly fluid; there are still weeks before school reopening. But the national trend is moving toward remote learning. A recent survey by Burbio, which monitors over 35,000 public school calendars, projected 52% of K-12 students will start the fall all-remotely, 19% in some hybrid model, 25% in-person daily, and 4% undecided.

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Volume 12, Issue 16, Posted 9:19 AM, 08.18.2020