Dear Orange Families,
I hope this email finds you well. As a fair warning, this message is longer than usual, but there is much to be said. First, I want to say thank you to all of you who took time out of your busy schedules to write and share your thoughts and ideas about returning to in-person learning in a hybrid model. Many parents wrote to say thanks and to show appreciation for not rushing into in-person classes and for putting student and staff safety first. Many also wrote to express concerns, the same concerns we all have for children and the need for in-person learning and social interactions that they may not be getting currently. Some even gathered to ask passers-by on Chagrin to “honk for hybrid,” and I appreciate the passion. We appreciate and value your input and will consider it as part of our process. In general, there is an understanding that this is very difficult, reinforcing the need to balance risks of COVID-19 with the risks associated with social isolation and being in full remote learning for so long. Truth be told, every one of us, from families at home to the faculty and staff, have likely been on the same rollercoaster ride, experiencing the peaks and valleys encompassing all of the aforementioned feelings.
Our hybrid plan is strong, and we are prepared to implement a model as safe as any. When I saw the county update Thursday, l was crushed. Even though the numbers in the state were spiraling upward, ending with 29 counties representing 65% of the state being at Level 3, Red, I had a feeling we would remain at Level 2, Orange. After all, we are #TeamOrange! However, I was wrong, and here we are, in remote learning still. As I stated in Thursday’s message, we have postponed implementing our Hybrid Model. If Thursday’s email created any confusion about this postponement, I apologize. The current plan we have been implementing from the onset of school, following the Cuyahoga County Board of Health K-12 Reopening Framework, has continued to drive the decision of when to return. The plan when the county is Red is to remain in our Full Remote (virtual) Model. As I shared in the Zoom Town Hall meetings and in my correspondence, if the county is Red, we will remain remote. In fact, per Scenario 2 (Orange) in the plan linked above, a Red district is to return to Orange for four (4) consecutive weeks with test positivity <5% before implementing in-person learning.
This brings me to an important point. At the Superintendents’ meeting this past Friday morning, the CCBH officials once again joined the Zoom call. As you can imagine, there were many questions. Many asked if they could share the number of cases in the county that traced back to schools, particularly in-school activity. They shared that the large proportion of the cases related to schools are from extracurricular activities, and the eventual hanging out and get-togethers before and after them. They went on to say that they are aware that many schools are implementing in-person learning, and doing so safely. These schools are able to create 6’ between students and wear masks, keeping it safe. Terry Allen of CCBH shared that many schools have the resources to do this safely, but not all. To his point we asked if the CCBH would, knowing what they know now based on this observation, be updating, revising or adding footnotes to their K-12 Reopening Framework, and they said no. They said while some districts have resources, many do not, and they do not foresee changing their guidance in the near future.
Furthermore, I have been observing what is happening around us and across the county. As many parents have pointed out, schools are going back to in-person learning, just like the county officials confirmed. Yes, there are positive cases, but contact tracing is largely not linking them back to school. One area district that made big news due to sports-related spread, has made it known that they have had 4 student cases since September 21st, and none were traced back to the school. Visiting the Ohio Department of Health School Reporting dashboard, results are promising if students and staff are careful and follow the rules. In fact, following the rules at school is just part of the formula for successful in-person learning. Wearing masks and distancing, avoiding unnecessary social interaction and large groups, and maintaining proper hand hygiene at home is just as, if not more important. In addition to these physical health pointers, emotional health is equally important. Finding ways to engage with others in a safe way, and speaking up when you or someone you know is struggling are paramount. Please contact our school counselors and social workers for support or if you have questions. Their contact information is located here in our Quick Reference Guide and Handbook Addendum. They can address many concerns, and of course, assist you with a referral if needed. We are here for you.
Please know that we are here and willing to continue to work to find a resolution to timing the return to in-person learning. As my colleagues shared at Friday’s meeting, the state and county-based color-coded framework is rigid. We are following it because we committed to remote learning in July and to following its guidance when it was released in September.
We know so much more now than we did at the start of the year about how schools can resume safely. I know our faculty and staff monitor the color-coded system, and there has been discussion with the Orange Teachers Association (OTA) about the CCBH K-12 Reopening Framework. Furthermore, the Board of Education is also interested in discussion about this system and a potential solution to get kids back, in-person sooner rather than later. Our Hybrid Model of instruction is great, and we are ready to implement it when the time comes. Our teachers, classified operations staff and administrative staff stand ready to serve our kids and families.
The Board of Education will have a Special Work Session tomorrow, Monday, October 19th at 6:00 PM. At that meeting, which will be audio-streamed, there will be no public participation as there will be no Board action items on the agenda. I will review the current plan and needs as discussed above and seek direction on how to move forward to revise our in-person return plans. Subsequently, I will collaborate with the administration and staff leadership and share results with the Board and you on or before October 26th, the date of the next General Session of the Board.
In closing, I appreciate your patience and understanding. This continues to be a tough time, navigating a pandemic, but we are in this together.