STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — The Strongsville school board voted 3-2 Thursday (Oct. 22) to stick with in-person classes every day for this week only, then decide this coming Thursday (Oct. 29) — if Cuyahoga County is still at the red COVID-19 alert level — whether to switch to half in-person, half remote or all-remote classes the following week.
Meanwhile, the North Royalton Schools, which had planned to change to in-person classes five days a week on Monday (Oct. 26), has decided to reverse course and transition to all-remote classes instead, at least temporarily.
The Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools, which had also planned to begin in-person learning every day starting Monday (Oct. 26), will stay in its current hybrid learning model, with pupils reporting to school buildings twice a week and learning at home the other three days.
The three school districts scrambled in different directions last week after Gov. Mike DeWine, at his regular Thursday (Oct. 22) press conference on COVID-19, announced that Cuyahoga County and other counties are on the watch list for moving into the purple, or highest, alert level for the pandemic.
DeWine said a record of 38 counties, including Cuyahoga County, were on red alert — the second-highest level for COVID-19 — due to an October spike in cases. He urged Ohioans to take the virus seriously and said that county health departments were experiencing twice the coronavirus cases as two weeks earlier.
Strongsville Schools started the school year with remote classes only due to COVID-19. At the time, the county was at the red alert level.
Then, in late September — after the county had dropped to the orange, or second-lowest, alert level for several weeks — Strongsville’s pre-kindergarten through grade 5 pupils started attending school in person every day. Pupils in grades 6-12 reported to their school buildings twice a week, while learning remotely the other three days.
Subsequently, as the county stayed at the orange alert level, the Strongsville district decided to return to in-person classes five days a week for all grade levels starting last Monday (Oct. 19). The board stuck with that move even after the county shot back to the red alert level on Oct. 15.
The Strongsville school board is reconsidering again after DeWine’s announcement last week that Cuyahoga County had met six of the seven criteria for the purple alert level, in terms of new cases, increase in new cases, cases outside congregate living spaces like nursing homes, emergency room visits, doctor visits, hospitalizations and intensive care occupancies.
Initially, on Oct. 16, the Strongsville school board voted to follow through on the plan to return to in-person classes five days a week for all grade levels starting Oct. 19. That’s because the district had decided several weeks ago that it would provide at least one week’s notice to families of any change in the learning model and to stay in any one learning model for at least two consecutive weeks.
That meant the first opportunity to change learning models would have been Nov. 2, schools Superintendent Cameron Ryba said in a message to parents.
However, at the Oct. 22 board meeting, Ryba recommended that the board give him discretion to waive the one-week notice requirement when switching learning models, as well as the requirement to stay in any one learning model for at least two consecutive weeks.
Ryba also recommended that the district keep its original plan to have in-person classes five days a week for all grade levels at the yellow and orange alert levels and all-remote classes at the purple level.
At the red alert level, which originally called for a hybrid learning model, Ryba provided the board several options, including those that would consider the alert levels in neighboring Lorain and Medina counties.
Another option was for the board to decide every Thursday night, after DeWine’s weekly press conference and release of new data, how to proceed if the county is at the red alert level.
Board President Richard Micko said the board wasn’t ready last week to decide which option to adopt. However, he said Ryba needed board direction on what to do this week (of Oct. 26). He motioned to stay with in-person classes every day for all pupils this week only.
Voting with Micko were board members Laura Wolfe-Housum and Michelle Bissell. Sherry Buckner-Sallee and Seth Roberts voted no. Roberts said he was concerned about sending pupils back to school buildings while COVID-19 cases are spiking.
Bissell said the board needed to consider the emotional and social health of pupils in addition to their physical health.
“If we ignore one or the other, we do a disservice to everyone,” Bissell said.
Ryba said that if the county is still at the red alert level Thursday (Oct. 29), the board will have a special meeting to decide what to do next Monday (Nov. 2). If the county moves to the purple alert level, the district will automatically switch to all-remote learning five days a week.
Earlier in the Oct. 22 board meeting, Rochelle Gallagher, the parent of a Strongsville Schools pupil, said the district should not have returned to all in-person learning, because under the original plan — which parents agreed to follow 10 weeks earlier — pupils would learn in a hybrid model when the county was at the red alert level.
“To me, this (return to five-day, in-person learning) violates what has been communicated for months — that the health and safety of our teachers, our students and our staff was the number-one priority, and all decisions would be based on that,” Gallagher told the board. “The county risk level is our only measure of safety.
“Trust is built on integrity and doing what you say you’re going to do,” Gallagher said. “We’re continually being asked as parents to trust you, and I hope you can see where my dilemma lies.”
Gallagher said Strongsville parents are attacking each other on social media over the issue, with some wanting to return in-person classes every day and some more cautious.
“It’s horrible being a mom right now,” Gallagher said.
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