The Chagrin Falls Board of Education last week approved two proposals for projects at the elementary, middle and high schools presented by ThenDesign Architecture.

The project for Gurney Elementary School will involve work on the acoustics in the school’s cafeteria to help with noise management. The projects for the middle and high schools will involve making improvements to outdoor student spaces at each school.

Board Vice President Kathryn Garvey said during the Nov. 17 meeting that she was pleased to see the proposal laying out a variety of options for the board to consider regarding how to make improvements to optimize each space.

The Gurney Elementary School project, estimated at $50,000, involves reducing noise in the cafeteria. BOE members also approved ThenDesign’s $3,000 fee for this project.

Superintendent Jennifer Penczarski said funding must be approved by the board so construction supplies can be secured to begin the project this coming summer.

The other project involves improving three outdoor areas that officials say are now not used to their full potential. There was no project cost estimate, but the board did approve an additional $3,000 service fee for ThenDesign.

Board member Sharon Broz said students should be part of the process to draft plans.

“The comment was made in the meeting that it would be great to get students involved in that upfront, so [we] just don’t want to lose sight of [the students],” Ms. Broz said. “ThenDesign probably needs to be informed that we would like, somehow, the process to be inclusive of student input.”

The board delayed action on a proposal to replace the roof of the theater shared by the middle and high schools estimated at $195,000. Board members said further discussions on this project will take place during their Dec. 8 meeting at 6 p.m. ThenDesign’s fee for this project would be $12,000.

In other business, COVID-19 cases have been on the rise throughout the district over the last few weeks and several email notifications have gone out to parents. According to the schools’ COVID-19 dashboard, there were six new student cases as of late last week, bringing the total to 42 students and 10 staff members since Aug. 23.

Questions were raised concerning the new mask mandate in all grade levels. Debates surrounding this topic have been ongoing since the board approved rules about face coverings earlier this school year.

Mandy Hilston told the board that as a future school parent, she is concerned about the face mask policy.

“I have three daughters that will hopefully soon be attending Chagrin Falls schools. My oldest is set to start next year in the fall of 2022,” she said, “but we are looking at alternatives if the school board does not allow parents to choose, for their own kids, if they want to put them in masks or not.”

Ms. Hilston referenced the board’s June 2021 meeting in which a board member said that retaining kids in the Chagrin Falls schools was a concern. Ms. Hilston explained that many parents in the community have the financial ability to seek private education for their children if the public schools do not allow parents to choose whether their children wear masks.

“If you continue to mandate things like masks, you can count on losing more students. I’m sure of that,” Ms. Hilston said. She referenced a story she had heard about a child who went to the restroom and dropped his mask in the toilet but wore the mask not wanting to get reprimanded by a teacher.

“Our school teachers and leaders have instilled so much fear into these kids that they would rather put on a soaking wet mask than to get in trouble,” she said.

In response to Ms. Hilston’s comments, resident Gary Welch addressed the board, expressing his support of their decisions.

“I felt that I needed to thank you, as a board, for the things you’re doing, for listening to experts and not anecdotes, looking at statistics and not giving into pressure,” Mr. Welch said. He explained that he drives a school bus in a nearby district and that the children he sees each day are “not miserable because they wear masks.

“They don’t really have a problem wearing masks and a lot of them are really excited because they’ve started to get their vaccines and they know that they’re doing something that’s good for them and good for their classmates,” he said.

“You’re doing the right thing and thank you from the community,” Mr. Welch said.

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