Dr. David Glasner, superintendent, announced Shaker Schools will start remotely for at least the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year during his 3 p.m. Summer Update July 31.
Throughout July, the district developed and shared plans for hybrid instruction at the high school, alternate-week instruction in grades 5-8 and in-person instruction for grades K-4. But Glasner announced July 28 that the district was considering a full remote start to the school year. This announcement came after the Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association released a letter July 21 recommending the district start and follow a remote learning plan through January 2021.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Health recommended July 29 that all county schools start the school year virtually. School districts such as Beachwood, Bedford, Orange, Solon and Mayfield then announced shifts away from in-person and hybrid models to fully online instruction, and other districts are reviewing their reopening plans.
Dr. John Morris, president of the SHTA, said members support the shift to virtual instruction. “We still stand by our recommendation for a fully virtual first semester, but like Dr. Glasner, we would love to see numbers in Cuyahoga drop down to a [level] 1,” which would enable a return to in-person learning.
The Ohio Department of Health established a public health advisory system to “to assess the degree of the virus’ spread and to engage and empower individuals, businesses, communities, local governments, and others in their response and actions.”
The ODH uses “a data-driven framework” to evaluate each county’s public emergency level. There are four risk levels, and each is accompanied by a set of guidelines to avoid contracting COVID-19. Level 1 is the lowest level of risk, and Level 4 is the highest level of risk. Cuyahoga Country is currently at a risk level 3.
During his July 31 Summer Update, Glasner said that although the administration expects virtual learning to end after the first quarter, the administration is prepared to extend remote instruction.
“We will know it is safe to return based on ongoing guidance from local, state, and federal health authorities, and, as we have mentioned in the past, we will continue to align our decisions to the Cuyahoga County health advisory level and other guidance,” Glasner said July 31.
“As you all know, student and staff health and safety is our primary concern and priority as we plan for the school year,” Glasner said during his July 28 update. “And that remains the case, particularly as we see COVID-19 cases continue to rise in this area.”
There are currently more than 93 thousand confirmed cases in Ohio and more than 12 thousand confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cuyahoga County.
In the slideshow accompanying the July 31 update, Glasner outlined plans for “robust, engaged synchronous learning” with “meaningful and authentic student-teacher engagement.” Students will have “structured opportunities to meet with teachers, similar to conferences during in-person learning.”
Glasner also emphasized that IEPs and 504 plan support will continue, and the district is exploring in-person, special instruction for high-need students. Shaker is also “working with partners” to provide childcare through the Shaker Heights Recreation Department.
“Plans are still in the very initial phases, and we are working with the city to explore our potential options,” Glasner said. “At this point, though, we do not yet have the capacity to create remote learning centers for students in need of supervision during the school day.”
“We are working, both with the Shaker Heights Recreation Department and talking with some private vendors to see what kind of options we can provide for students,” Glasner said.
Food service will also be available during remote learning, although distribution times and methods may change to accommodate student schedules.
In-person extracurricular activities are suspended. Glasner said that the school would offer “virtual extracurricular activities,” though he did not clarify what these activities would be.
Senior Max Carroll said that although it was disappointing that school will begin remotely, he understands where the decision comes from. “I think we need to limit contact as much as we can, even though it’s going to be taxing for kids. I think it’s the right decision, honestly,” he said.
Biology teacher Jason Walker wrote in an email that he agreed with the district’s choice. “I think that the administration has done a good job handling the pandemic for the 2020-2021 school year,” he wrote. “It is a moving target that is continually changing, so their flexibility has been nice to see.”
“I think starting virtually is in the best interest of the students and staff’s safety! I love being in front of a class and having a discussion, but it is a logistical nightmare to keep everyone healthy,” Walker wrote.
Senior Jen Rincon said she is concerned about studies in the Theatre Department and Art Department. “There are some subjects we’re already struggling to maintain, like [classes] in the Art Department and the Theater Department. You really need the resources to come from the school for these things,” she said.
Rincon also expressed concern about staying engaged in virtual classes. “I know I had a lot of trouble staying in the zone at home,” she said. “This will be a totally new horizon.”
Although Morris fully supports the district’s decision as SHTA president, he will miss in-person interaction with his students. “The reason I wanted to be a teacher, and the reason I remained a teacher for 23 years is because I get to see my students’ faces, I get to interact with them face to face. For teachers, you guys are what propel us to want to teach,” he said.
Junior Nichele Abeyesundere said she will miss the school community. “I miss going to school physically, but I think safety and health is first and foremost, and there’s still so many questions surrounding the virus,” she said.
Abeyesundere said she would like to have small group virtual discussions to facilitate community engagement. “I did this virtual research program at Case, and we had these one-hour sessions every week where we just talked about different things like racism and mental health, just to have a conversation, because it’s really hard to have that when everything is virtual and you only see a few people.”
“I think it would be nice if you could meet with a mentor or meet in small groups virtually so that everyone has some time to talk to people and share their thoughts,” Abeyesundere said.
Glasner also announced all fall athletic events, such as competitions and conferences, would be postponed until further notice.
The decision will significantly affect athletes, cross country and track coach David Englander stated in an email. “I think there’s a lot of emphasis on student athletes that are looking to compete at the next level, and we certainly have a few runners in that situation,” he wrote. “Because track season was also canceled, seniors have lost the two prime opportunities to draw the attention of college coaches.”
“The greater impact, however, is the loss of community. Our team has built a community based on relationships that are forged over hundreds of hours and thousands of miles,” Englander said, “I don’t think you can ever replace the experiences and bonds that are being sacrificed.”
Junior Anna Carpenter runs track and cross country. She said that she will miss the cross country community. “It’s going to suck because I like seeing everyone. You know, you can talk and catch up and hear about what everyone’s been doing over the past couple weeks. It’s going to be really hard,” she said.
Walker said that ultimately, safety is of the utmost importance.
Said Walker, “There are many challenges I see teaching remotely, but they are minor compared to how I would feel if I lost a student, relative or myself to COVID.”