January 26, 2021
It has been almost a year since we stopped instructing all of our students in person and it has been a challenging year for everyone as we have sought to navigate our daily lives in the age of COVID-19. I take the concerns raised in the from the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union seriously. The communications from CHTU reflect concerns that I want to address, with the hope of alleviating fears and offering clarity on the District’s plans for a return to school. Nothing is more important to me than the safety and health of our students, our teachers and our staff.
To date and moving forward, we continue to use CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), ODH (Ohio Department of Health) and CCBH (Cuyahoga County Board of Health) recommendations for schools to guide our instructional plans. At this time, Cuyahoga County is under a stay-at-home advisory per the county’s Board of Health. This advisory expires on Sunday, January 31 with no indication of an extension. Additionally, the Board of Health released this past weekend, indicating that schools should move towards either implementing a hybrid or 5-day-a-week schedule to align with a March 1 date based on their ability to adhere to CDC and ODH mitigation strategies. We must be prepared to transition to hybrid instruction before March 1, per our agreement with the state, in order to prioritize our staff for the vaccine. The first step in that transition is to have all of our staff return to the buildings to work. Many staff have not been in the building since our closure last March and time to acclimate is as important for staff as it is for our students. I would not ask our teachers and staff to take this step if I thought it were unsafe. In fact, this is the fastest way to get our teachers the vaccine, should they wish to receive it.
This need to ensure staff have a chance to acclimate in the building before in-person instruction begins is a lesson that has been shared from area leaders who have been implementing in-person instruction in their schools. As of January 19, in the First Ring school districts, nearly 90% of districts have plans to implement hybrid learning by February 16, and 70% have already started to implement hybrid or 5 day a week learning. Weekly meetings with these and other districts in Cuyahoga County have been a valuable source of information as it relates to the implementation of in-person instructional models.
Needs of Students
While teachers have worked hard to implement remote learning this year, as I review the attendance, assessment and grade data for the first semester, it is clear that remote learning is simply not meeting the needs of many of our students. There are certainly students who have adjusted well to this model given the circumstances, but quantitative and qualitative data show otherwise for a considerable number of our students. I do not feel that this is an indicator of teacher performance; it is an indicator of a need for educators to be present with their students in their schools. I have heard from parents who have indicated that their children miss being in school and are struggling either academically and/or with social emotional wellness.
Regarding the fall return of our students with low-incidence disabilities, our was developed in consultation with the Board of Health. It’s important to note that there was no documented spread from any classroom. This most vulnerable group especially will benefit from being back in the classroom, should their parents/guardians choose that option.
Vaccines & FFCRA
From the start of the year, all of the District’s recommendations on reopening instruction have been aligned to the CCBH guidance for schools. Although I am pleased that the COVID-19 vaccine will soon be available to our staff, I remain committed to using the CCBH guidance to inform our plan. They have indicated in their that mitigation strategies are the key to a safe reopening. Our mitigation strategies are based on CDC and ODH recommendations, and can be found on pages 3 and 4 of our . We will review these strategies before staff return to the building as we know that there are many staff who have not been back in our building since last spring. We are working with the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio to determine a local vaccine distribution partner and solidify dates/locations for administering the vaccines.
We will continue to discuss the implications of the expiration of FFCRA with District stakeholders and will share updates accordingly.
Health & Safety/Social Distancing
Again, we have many COVID-19 mitigation strategies related to mask-wearing, social distancing, cleaning and HVAC systems in our , all of which are aligned with CDC and ODH recommendations. Our standard for distancing in the classrooms is 6 feet, and all classrooms have been set up to instruct students aligned to this standard. Additional, building-specific information on health and safety practices for students will be shared later this week so that parents have an understanding of the different building operational protocols that will be in place at each building. Many of the questions that the Union shared will be answered in these protocols. We have been vetting these protocols to make sure they cover each element of the student experience.
Educators across CH-UH have been involved in planning meetings since the spring of last year and I remain committed to working through our reopening planning with district stakeholders on key elements of our hybrid teaching framework. Assistant Superintendent Felisha Gould has been engaged with teachers at all of our schools to get their input on how these frameworks should be structured to support students who are learning at home and students learning remotely. This is one of the many areas that will be new for our district, just as remote learning was new.
Please know that I understand the Union’s concerns. Transitions are not easy which is why we are taking care to transition teachers back into the classrooms first in our reopening plan. As has been the case from the start of the year, District leadership will continue to work to ensure alignment with the Board of Health guidance in our recommendations to the Board of Education on our reopening instructional models.
Finally, staff members may use to submit any outstanding questions that they may have regarding the return to schools in CH-UH. We will work to address them during future Board meetings, staff meetings and in our return to school documents.