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Several Northeast Ohio public school districts have announced students will have an all-virtual start to the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The districts’ announcements for an entirely online curriculum to begin the year follow the Cuyahoga County Board of Health’s recently updated guidance and recommendations.

The health board’s school reopening statement dated July 30 said the following factors were analyzed and considered in their recommendation: average number of daily cases more than tripling between mid-June and mid-July; limited community capacity to test children; increasing levels of hospital activity including outpatient visits and hospitalizations, including intensive care admissions, related to COVID-19; a high percentage of recent cases have occurring in non-congregate settings; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifying the local case activity and numbers as being in the “high incidence” category; Cuyahoga County’s current Ohio Public Health Advisory System rating as Level 3/red; testing which shows positivity rates have “been climbing” over the last month; and investigation into multiple reports of clusters of cases in school-related settings such as sports and other “return to play” activities.

The health board recommends schools within its jurisdiction begin the 2020-21 school year remotely “due to the elevated health risk posed to students, staff and family members,” and discontinue extracurriculars such as sports, band, theater, choir and other activities during the remote learning period.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Aug. 4 that children in grades K-12 will be required to wear masks upon their return to schools throughout the state.

Beachwood City Schools

Following the health board’s recommendation, Beachwood City Schools Superintendent Robert P. Hardis sent an email to Beachwood families notifying them all students would start the 2020-21 school year remotely. The initial plan allowed parents to choose whether their K-12 grade children returned to campus or engaged in remote learning. The first day of school is Aug. 24.

“We have many details to work out now and we will do so in the coming days and weeks,” Hardis said in the email. “Beachwood’s online learning environment will be designed to best serve the educational needs of our students. When we do return to school, we will do so with health and safety remaining our top priority.”

The school board held a special meeting July 31 to rescind fall sports coaching contracts, meaning there will be no fall sports as of now.

Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School district

Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District Superintendent Liz Kirby announced July 29 all students would start the 2020-21 school year remotely on Sept. 2. This later start date will allow time for teacher training and additional student support.

Families who chose one of the district’s two online models will move forward with their original plans; those who chose the blended or in-person models for their children must make a decision regarding their online model of choice. The district will provide a Chromebook to every kindergarten through 12th-grade student before the school year begins. Planning committees will continue working on the details of all-remote learning, including enrichment support for families who find themselves in a difficult spot due to work commitments, etc.

Preschool will also operate virtually for the start of the 2020-21 school year in accordance with the K-12 plan. Students who were registered can opt to participate by paying $106 per month to cover technology, instruction, supplies and resources, or choose to have a spot held for when in-person learning returns. Students who have special needs can access the virtual program and services with no fee.

Mayfield City Schools

Following the health board’s recommendation, Mayfield City Schools Superintendent Keith Kelly sent an email to Mayfield families notifying them all students would start the 2020-21 school year remotely for at least the first quarter.

The initial plan involved a transition back-to-school week from Aug. 17 to Aug. 21 to acclimate students and staff to new routines and safety protocols. It also allowed families in the district to choose whether their children would return to school five days a week or engage in at-home remote learning for at least one full semester.

“If pandemic conditions change, we will pivot to our in-person and remote learning options as previously planned,” Kelly said in the July 31 email.

The Mayfield schools implemented an all-access learning model in 2018. Kelly said using this model allows the 2020-21 calendar and schedule to remain the same as if Mayfield staff and students were teaching and learning together in person.

“The Mayfield staff will report to our schools, adhere to all safety protocols, conduct lessons and guide remote learning in real time,” Kelly said.

Staff will report on Aug. 12, Aug. 13 and Aug. 14 for professional development. The week of Aug. 17 to Aug. 21 will be used to academically assess, transition, conduct vision/hearing screenings and acclimate particular groups of students to remote technologies.

These services will take place in Mayfield facilities while adhering to all safety protocols, distancing and mask requirements. Those who are uncomfortable sending their students to Mayfield facilities for these services will be accommodated.

Mayfield will participate in fall sports.

Orange City School District

Following the health board’s recommendation, Orange City School District Superintendent Lynn Campbell wrote to Orange schools families notifying them all students would start the 2020-21 school year remotely for at least the first semester.

Fall sports and extracurricular activities, including band, cheer and Lionettes are suspended per the health board’s recommendation.

Campbell said the district will monitor data trends and recommendations from agencies such as the county health board and the Ohio Department of Health. He said the district will also monitor the Ohio Public Health Advisory System designations “with hopes of our county de-escalating to Level 1 or 2 (yellow or orange, respectively).”

“Monitoring these data and information sources will allow us to re-evaluate our status as the semester progresses,” Campbell said. “If data trends and guidance from the aforementioned public health entities support it, we may return to in-person blended learning and remote options.”

If the district decides to transition out of full-remote learning, families and staff will be notified at least two weeks in advance.

Shaker Heights City School District

According to an email to families, staff and community members from Shaker Heights Schools Superintendent David Glasner, students will begin the school year remotely Aug. 31 and all in-person athletic practices, events and conditioning have been suspended.

The district’s original plan offered two options: in-person hybrid instruction or the Shaker Virtual Academy.

“We expect to be in a remote learning environment for at least a quarter,” Glasner said. “However, based on conversations with local and state health officials and from a realistic planning perspective, we understand that remote learning may continue for a longer period of time.”

The email cited recommendations from the health board and said, if and when guidance changes, the district will work to get students back in its buildings.

Glasner said the coming weeks will be used for staff including teachers, administrators, special education instructors and school psychologists to collaborate to ensure the district meets its students diverse learning needs. The district initially planned for students to start Aug. 28, but according to the email, a delayed start ensures faculty and staff can participate in district-provided professional development to prepare and plan for remote learning.

Solon City Schools 

Following the health board’s recommendation, Solon City Schools sent an email to Solon and Glenwillow families notifying them all students would start the 2020-21 school year remotely for at least the first quarter.

All in-person athletics, band and extracurricular activities will cease during that time, according to an announcement posted July 31 on the district’s website. Students can still opt for an all-online track for the full fall semester.

When the district had intended to use a hybrid model, it said those students choosing to learn remotely would not be permitted to participate in extracurricular activities. However, it soon reversed that decision.

“It is our hope and intention to return to the in-person model with a virtual option as soon as health department guidance deems it prudent and we can logistically make the switch back to in-person learning,” the post said.

“Since the inception of this pandemic in March, we have been in continual communication with the CCBH and have been heeding their guidance,” according to the release. “We have always relied on the Cuyahoga County Board of Health for necessary guidance related to the health, safety and well-being of our students and staff. In keeping with their guidance now, we will need to start the year remotely for the first quarter. This includes the cessation of in-person athletics, band and extracurricular activities for the first quarter effectively immediately.”

The district hopes and intends to return to an in-person model with a virtual option as soon as health department guidance deems it prudent and it can logistically make the switch back to in-person learning.

Classes are set to begin Aug. 26.

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