CLEVELAND — The March 1 deadline to return to schools was missed by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Despite public admonishment by Gov. Mike DeWine, district officials moved the date to return to in-person schooling to later in the month.
It has been almost an entire calendar year since CMSD schools closed their doors. The district, like several major urban districts in the state, has only offered remote learning since Dewine's order to close schools in March 2020.
For some parents in Cleveland, the big district's decision to keep schools closed made them rethink enrolling their kids for the 2020-2021 school year.
The effect of that decision can be seen in one district of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. The Central Cleveland East district saw more than 170 students join the enrollment rolls; bucking the trend of decreasing enrollment for the diocesan schools. All schools in the diocese have offered in-person classes since the beginning of the school year.
"I felt that he needed to go in school. We leaped out on faith and it worked out," said aunt Danita Battle.
Battle decided it was time for her nephew, Dewayne, to switch schools. He started his fourth-grade year at St. Francis in October. Battle said the few months when they were both learning and working from home was not working out.
"The word that comes to my mind, it was exhausting for, for me, and for him," she said. "I'm working on my at my desk in my dining room. He's working at the dining room table on his laptop ... So it was difficult to monitor and we're here together."
St. Francis is one of the schools in the Cleveland Central East district for the diocese. The elementary school along with St. Adalbert, St. Agatha-St. Aloysius, St. Jerome, and St. Thomas Aquinas compose the district. In 2019, the district had 1,229 students. This year it recorded 1,400.
"So these schools are, we hope, home for these students," said. Dr. Frank O'Linn, the Superintendent of Schools for the diocese. O'Linn said these schools are neighborhood schools and the students live nearby.
"Sure, I was fearful of the pandemic," Battle said about sending her nephew to school. But, she said the procedures the school had in place eased her mind. Each room has protective barriers taped to desktops, students must wear masks and get a temperature check when they arrive for the start of the day. When News 5 was in a St. Francis first grade classroom, a staff member came around spraying disinfectant on surfaces before the first bell of the day.
Battle said Dewayne only had to switch to remote learning once in the fall semester. His classes were back in person five days later.
"I just felt that it was a good environment and that he would be okay and he has been okay," Battle said about the decision.
But Battle isn't the only person moving children out of public schools during the pandemic. Numbers from the state show 18,000 students left Ohio public schools. While some go to private schools, homeschool, or learning pods, some are going to diocesan schools.
"Catholic schools are schools of choice," O'Linn said. "Nobody is required to go to a Catholic school."
With more choices available for parents, enrollment numbers in the diocese have dropped 50% in the last 20 years.
"Especially Catholic schools, are dependent on enrollment for their livelihood," O'Linn said while acknowledging how important attendance numbers are for all schools across the city.
With an uptick in students for one district, it means those schools are more financially stable. O'Linn thinks people who came to Catholic schools this year will stay.
"Every year our schools have to demonstrate their value to the parents to choose them and the families that want to stay," he said.
Battle made the decision about Dewayne's future shortly after school started.
"It's my plan to keep him at St. Francis until the eighth grade and then transition to a high school," she said.