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CMSD announces phased return to in-person learning starting March 1 after urging by Gov. DeWine

School Desk
Posted at 2:00 PM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 18:20:36-05

CLEVELAND — Some Cleveland Metropolitan School District students will be able to return to the classroom for in-person learning on March 1 in the first of three re-opening phases laid out by CMSD CEO Eric Gordon.

On March 1, hybrid learning will be offered to higher-need students with disabilities, 12th graders who are struggling, and Career-Technical Education students.

On March 8, students learning English, Pre-K through 2nd-grade students, struggling high school students, and seniors will have the option to learn on a hybrid schedule.

On March 15, the full district will have the option to attend in-person classes two days a week.

See the district's website outlining the plan here.

The hybrid schedule will allow half of the students who opt in to go to school buildings on Monday and Tuesday, while learning remotely for the rest of the week. The other half will attend in-person on Thursday and Friday. Families can also decide to remain at home and learn remotely.

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Vaccination sites along the gym in Max Hayes High School will make it possible to pass through thousands of education staff a day once the vaccine shows up.

Originally, Gordon told News 5, “the Governor is expecting us to make our best faith effort and that’s what we need to do. Had the vaccines been available on Jan. 16 when the governor initially announced this, I think he had a reasonable expectation that six weeks later we should fully be able to do this.”

But Governor DeWine’s Friday evening press conference on February 12, 2021 suggested a different approach from Columbus when he mentioned Akron Public Schools and CMSD by name as districts that committed to offering in-person instruction by March 1 but weren’t planning on following through.

“And so my question to [CMSD CEO Eric Gordon] is are we to stop the vaccination?” Governor DeWine asked during his press conference. “He made a commitment to me, I’m very happy to report, that he’s going to do everything in his power to get his students back in school by March 1.”

DeWine went as far as to threaten cutting off vaccines for CMSD staff because they were initially offered contingent on districts allowing students back into their classrooms by March 1.

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"We're not going to put our kids and community at risk when they're telling us they're not comfortable, they don't feel safe, and the evidence tells us they're right," said CMSD CEO Eric Gordon talking about the decision to start the school year online. Gordon announced Friday that students could start returning to the classroom for the first time in nearly a year on March 1, 2021.

Gordon says this phased return approach, playing out over three weeks for all 37,000 CMSD students, addresses Governor DeWine’s concerns about vaccine allocation and use while not creating bigger problems when students try to go back to the classroom all at once.

“I explained to him the complications of having more than half of our students say they’re not returning so we had to run a remote system and a hybrid system,” said Gordon.

Gordon says 55 percent of the district families are comfortable with some level of in-person instruction so there will still be a considerable number of students who will continue to learn from home full time, as they have been since March 2020.

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CMSD students will have the option to return to in-person instruction starting on March 1 in a phased-approach that will ramp up through most of March.

“I had actually planned my update last Friday,” said Gordon. “I delayed it to see the vaccine process and then the [Governor’s evening] press conference happened. If I had announced it last Friday, it might have been a very different conversation.”

But, Gordon won’t say what his plan might have been a week ago before the Governor’s press conference.

CMSD High School Junior Makayla Barlow has been learning from home for nearly a full year, blurring the distinction between her house and school.

Her usually-good grades haven't slipped too much but the schoolwork just seems that much harder.

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CMSD Junior Makayla and her mom Natasha have been navigating COVID and school work from home for nearly a year. Makayla will now have the option to go to school in-person for two days every week starting in March.

"When I'm virtual, I don't have the motivation to do it," said Barlow.

She's excited about the chance to return to the classroom, even if it means having to wake up earlier for class than she's been able to for much of the school year.

Makayla's mom, Natasha Lovelace has had a chance to get out of the house much more often because of work, and she says she's happy her daughter will get a chance to get out more too.

"With her being at home, she hasn't been able to see the turning point or to see that light," said Lovelace. "Oh this is gonna end. This is not going to be my life and situation forever."

After CMSD's plan was announced, the Cleveland Teachers Union announced that it wouldn't return to the classroom until it was convinced the proper safety precautions have been installed in school buildings.

The members of the Cleveland Teachers Union are committed to working with CEO Gordon and district officials on a plan to safely reopen schools for in-person learning with the clear expectation that the COVID-19 health and safety standards identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are sufficiently addressed in Cleveland school buildings and worksites.

“CTU members want to be back in person, in classrooms with our students. However, we insist that any reopening is done thoughtfully and safely for students, families, and staff and not in response to some arbitrary timeline.” President Obrenski stated.

President Obrenski pointed to the extensive, collaborative work by CTU and CMSD leadership and extraordinary effort by teachers and other educators to continue the education of students and communication and partnership with families throughout the pandemic.

“We cannot allow undue pressure from the Governor and other politicians to prevent us from following the clear CDC guidelines meant to stop the spread of COVID-19, save lives, and keep our CMSD family safe,” added President Obrenski. “Reopening schools safely is not a one-size-fits-all package that can simply be executed on demand. The Cleveland community deserves better from Ohio’s elected leaders.”

The CTU President, the CEO, and their teams have been planning for in-person hybrid learning and she believes the months of planning have put them in a good position to “safely and thoughtfully reopen schools in a hybrid model when safety standards are in place—including adequate ventilation in each of our classrooms—but not before. Our careful, science-based planning should not be abandoned now simply to meet a subjective political decree. CTU members will return to in-person learning when it is safe for us and our students to return. Until then, we will continue educating Cleveland’s children remotely.”

The Cleveland Teachers Union represents the nearly 5,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, and other educational related-service providers in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
Cleveland Teachers Union, Local 279

In an interview after the CMSD plan came out, Cleveland Teachers Union President Shari Obrenski told News 5 that the union and school district have been working closely to address teacher concerns about what would make their classrooms safe for in-person instruction.

"Just in good conscience and in the transparent relationship that we have had, I cannot say that everything will be ready to go in the timeline that [CMSD CEO Eric Gordon] has laid out," said Obrenski.

She says there's the potential for a small number of volunteer teachers to return on March 1 to teach the relatively small number of returning students but that the full union will return to school buildings when they feel safe to do so.

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