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Q&A: Northeast Ohio Universities, K-12 Schools Shift To Remote Learning

Amid high COVD-19 case numbers and guidance of “just stay home,” universities and K-12 schools in Northeast Ohio are re-assessing how they’re teaching students, especially after recent stay-at-home advisories. All Things Considered Host Tony Ganzer spoke with ideastream Education Reporter Jenny Hamel about the advisories’ impact on local schools.

When Cuyahoga County issued its stay-at-home advisory this week, it recommended schools and universities all go to remote learning following the Thanksgiving break. Are schools following the recommendations?

Well Tony, many are. We’re at a point where even private schools in the area that are using a lot of resources to mitigate COVID-19 risk on campus are shifting their teaching models. Let’s take St. Ignatius High School. They had three staff members, or still do, dedicated full time to contact tracing. They had thermal scanners to gauge temperatures. And even though they were adhering to other safety protocols, they are now shifting to remote learning. And, in a letter to parents yesterday, Principal Anthony Fior said the school would stay with remote learning following Thanksgiving break. He points to the school’s 14 positive COVID-19 cases and the over 75 kids in quarantine. And in the letter he pointed to guidance directly given by a University Hospitals infectious disease specialist who is on the team developing the Pfizer vaccine. 

“So, he basically said, ‘Hey, people are going to get together during those holidays, whether you tell them to or not, unfortunately. And, you know, for the safety of your community and for the wider community, I would recommend that you stay virtual,’” Fior said. “He described the situation as bleak and this third wave as the worst of the three waves and that this would likely take six to eight weeks to play out.”

Cuyahoga and Summit counties are among those that have issued stay-at-home advisories. How have the public school districts responded?

The biggest school districts – Cleveland Metropolitan Schools, Akron Schools, Parma – have been teaching its students remotely. Some of the suburban districts like Bay Village went fully remote this week and will announce Dec. 3 if kids will return to class Dec. 7 or stay remote. Meanwhile, Shaker Heights School district had recently moved from remote learning to a hybrid model, but in light of the COVID-19, risk the district just told families it will return to being fully remote following next week’s Thanksgiving break.

What about parents? What have you heard in terms of parent reactions?

I did speak to Shaker parent Kimberly Harris, who has a sixth and a ninth grader in the Shaker schools, and the sixth grader had just started going back to school. Harris is in an interesting position because she herself wishes the district had stayed remote through January because she says it took some time for her kids to get used to and comfortable with remote learning.

But at the same time, she’s in a group called SAAMS, or Shaker African American Mothers Support. She’s been hearing from parents [there] who are frantically scrambling to make remote learning work.

“I deal with them every day. I have voicemails now asking for just help and resources, moms asking for funds because we're just helping to supply some funds to pay for child care,” Harris said.

So Harris has incredible sympathy for these moms but still thinks that ultimately, community health has to be preserved.

I remember the governor praising higher education for switching to remote learning for now, where do Northeast Ohio universities fall?

Cleveland State University announced this week, a day before the county’s advisory, that all students will be learning remotely between Thanksgiving and Christmas break in light of rising COVID-19 cases in the community.

The University of Akron shifted to remote learning following the governor’s warnings about COVID-19 spread and will use this model until further notice.  

I also talked to a Kent State University student, Saraina Wise, who said that Kent had planned for a complete remote learning model between the holiday breaks. So the music major had expected that and said she’s making sacrifices in the interest of public health.

“It sucks that I had to move all my music performances by four weeks, but I'd rather lose that rehearsal time and not have us have a giant COVID outbreak,” Wise said. “So I think it was the right thing to do, especially, I mean, my friends and I honestly thought we were going to get shut down before this. We were kind of surprised that we made it until the end of the semester.”

Wise said that’s because there’s still is a big party culture on campus, despite what she sees as administrators’ and police efforts to curb those large group gatherings.

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