Superintendent David Glasner notified the district employees through email and posted a statement on shaker.org to notify the community of the district’s plan to reopen schools after the end of the first quarter.
In an email sent Sept. 16, Glaser informed teachers, support teachers and paraprofessionals that they would report to work Oct. 12 to teach remotely from their classrooms and prepare for the return of students Nov. 2. The email also stated that teachers’ return would be preceded by that of administrators Sept. 29 and administrative assistants Oct. 5.
Employees who have obtained medical exemptions are not required to report.
“Cuyahoga County continues to experience a significant decline in positivity rates and positive cases of COVID-19 and has remained at Level 2 (Orange) for more than four weeks,” Glasner wrote. The district plans to implement a “phased-in” hybrid model for returning to school and a remote learning option for families who choose to not return to in-person instruction.
The email came two days after the Cuyahoga County Board of Health released a set of recommendations for returning to in-person classes for each public emergency level. Beachwood students returned to in-person instruction Sept. 14, and Mayfield Heights City Schools plans a three-week phase in beginning Sept. 21 and concluding Oct. 5.
“Our implicit goal from the start of the 2020-21 school year has been to get our students back into the classroom safely and responsibly. Our tentative plan to do that mirrors the Cuyahoga County Board of Health guidelines,” Executive Director of Communications Scott Stephens said. “If the data changes, our plans will change.”
Glasner stated that students who cannot return to in-person school because of health concerns would still be offered a “remote learning option.”
Junior Jaedon Sargent, who plans on going back to school in-person, is excited to return but hopes the district puts in place safety measures. “I feel cool about it, but safety is important, so that’d be my only real concern,” he said. “Like, if they make it super safe where there’s no cases and they get tested, I’d be perfectly fine with going back.”
Glasner’s email stated that employees must adhere to Staff Health and Safety Guidelines. “By swiping your badge upon entry to a District building, you are stating that you have had no symptoms or contact with COVID-19-positive or COVID-19-exposed individuals, and that you will wear a mask appropriately, wash and sanitize your hands and maintain a physical distance of six feet.”
Shortly after Glasner’s email arrived, the Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association released a letter stating its concerns about returning to school. “We still have so many issues that have yet to be addressed, many of which we have been discussing since July,” the letter stated.
Among SHTA concerns are lack of testing and contact tracing protocols in the district, the condition and nature of HVAC ventilation systems, and guaranteed widespread availability of N95 masks.
“We need to know that we have a fresh exchange of air into the rooms because that’s what all of the research was saying about the safest environments for hindering the transmission of the COVID-19,” said high school English teacher Dr. John Morris, SHTA president.
“We want to know that we have some semblance of contact tracing and testing. The LA Unified School District in California announced that they are testing all of their students and staff before they open up the building,” Morris said.
LAUSD comprises nearly 500,000 students and 75,000 staff members.
Before announcing July 31 that school would begin with fully remote instruction Aug. 31, the district had proposed a hybrid instruction model for the high school in which students would be divided into three cohorts. Each would attend school in person three days a week for four hours and learn remotely the rest of the time.
No statement about any of the district building schedules accompanied Glasner’s email or shaker.org post.
Sophomore Chloe Brown also plans to follow the hybrid schedule if it is offered. “If I had the chance, I would definitely do hybrid because I learn better with the teacher, like, seeing them in person,” she said. “Online [learning] is so much harder for me.”
Brown said she trusts the district will implement good safety protocols for student and faculty safety. “They’re probably going to be very strict with everything. Masks on 24/7, probably a lot of sanitizing and stuff,” she said.
Senior Margaret Bennet believes the safest option is to continue virtual school. “I think it would be in the best interest of the district to continue virtual learning into the winter to protect the health of the community,” she said.
Junior Maddie Lenehan said she is worried that students will not respect others’ space or take the virus seriously. “I’m also concerned for the teachers, especially the older ones who are at a higher risk if they get it,” she said.
Sargent said testing and social distancing are important. “Before we go, definitely test people,” he said. “Then limit the amount of people in the classrooms to like 12 or 15 people.”
The CDC recommends maintaining at least six feet of distance to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission via close contact. Some high school classrooms will not meet that standard with 12 students and a teacher.
Over the summer, the district initially presented a plan to send K-4 students back to school by alternate weeks, but in his July 16 update, Glasner said the plan had been revised to full attendance for K-4 with three feet of distance and plexiglass screens to protect students.
Though Lenahan wants to go back to school, she still has concerns about it. “I don’t know what’s the right decision at this point, but I do think October is too early to go back,” she said.
The plans for returning to school will be further discussed at a Board of Education work session Tuesday at 5 p.m. Glasner wrote he plans to share “additional specifics as they become available” following the Board meeting.
He wrote, “I look forward to welcoming back students in person in the near future.”
Lauren Sheperd, Hilary Shakelton, Erin Williams, Annie Sullivan, Evan Barragate, Jenna Loveman and Bay Simonelli contributed to reporting.