The Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District is looking to implement a hybrid learning model for the start of the 2020-21 school year with all-in and all-remote plans on standby if needed.

The Chagrin Falls Board of Education approved all three models during its July 22 Zoom meeting, which streamed through YouTube, after Superintendent Robert Hunt presented the plans and recommended their approval.

Dr. Hunt said he asked the board to approve all three models because there is “potential that we could be in all three at different times during the school year.

“As of today [July 22], that model is hybrid,” Dr. Hunt said. “That’s where I feel this needs to be with the understanding that if there’s significant change, one way or the other [with COVID-19], we could be remote or we could be all in.”

Opening plans are underway for districts statewide since the state mandated closing of school buildings in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the new hybrid plan, students may also opt for an entirely remote plan, the Chagrin Virtual Academy. Dr. Hunt explained that the final plan for the school year with training procedures for teachers and staff will be available by mid-August and that the number of students who opt for the virtual academy will impact this.

Parents will need to enroll their children in either the hybrid model or virtual academy for the first trimester in kindergarten through sixth grade or the semester for seventh through 12th grades. Parents can change the selected model at the end of the trimester or semester if necessary. Selections will be final by July 31.

Dr. Hunt explained that with the hybrid model, students will spend half of their day with in-person instruction and the other half with remote instruction and that students will be divided by county.

The district includes both Cuyahoga and Geauga counties. Cuyahoga students will attend in-person classes in the morning and remote classes in the afternoon, and vice versa for Geauga students.

The all-in model, should this option be applicable for the district, includes returning all students to in-person instruction with proper health and safety protocols in place. The Chagrin Virtual Academy, he said, is entirely remote and taught by Chagrin Falls teachers with both live instruction and recorded lesson plans for all grades.

He added that in the event schools switch to an all-in model, students would still have the option of remote learning.

Hybrid learning explained

The hybrid model looks different depending on the grade level of students.

Director of Pupil Services Jennifer Bencko said that for grades kindergarten through six, students will come to school all days of the week with literacy and math taught in person Monday through Thursday and Encore classes on Friday. Students will take their science and social studies classes and English language arts extension assignments remotely.

For grades seven through 12, she said, students will come into school four days a week, with Wednesdays all virtual. Classes will be on rotation for the students so they attend all classes both virtually and in person, she explained.

For all grade levels, special education students or those with Individual Education Programs, or IEPs, may remain in school for full days under the hybrid model as needed. She said that with both the hybrid and virtual models, students are required to follow a set schedule with attendance taken at each class.

Director of Technology and Information Systems Mike Daugherty said students will follow daily health and safety protocols for both hybrid and in-person models.

Students are expected to have their temperature taken at home prior to arriving at school, they must wear masks on the bus and sit with siblings, their temperature will be taken again upon arrival at school, they must maintain at least 6 feet of distance from their peers when possible and dividers will separate desks with fewer pieces of furniture in classrooms to accommodate social distancing.

Mr. Daugherty said students and staff will also be required to wear masks in school throughout the day.

Masks required for students

Dr. Hunt said the board is in the process of developing a policy for approval at a future meeting that will require masks for all students.

“Per the governor’s order, all staff will be in masks, and we will also mask all of our students,” he said. “That’s something that people have various opinions on, but that’s the direction we’re going in an attempt to put as much protection between students and each other and staff.”

Board member Kathryn Garvey noted that per Gov. Mike DeWine’s orders, the entire state is under a mask order anyway.

“This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. If you’re in any public space, then you should be wearing a mask,” she said. “It’s the proven most effective layer of protection against the spread of the disease.”

The district will ask students to bring their own masks but will supply a mask if a student does not have one.

Dr. Hunt confirmed that students should bring multiple masks to change throughout the day based on level of comfort.

“Playing around with masks right now, finding what’s comfortable, I think, is worthwhile to exercise,” Dr. Hunt added. He said the district’s PTO was in the process of rolling out a website for purchasing PPE like masks and hand sanitizer “that parents may want to consider purchasing in preparation for the year, as well.”

He said wearing masks will be “a critical component of [the district’s] safety.”

Community response

In a survey rolled out to the district, Dr. Hunt said 91 percent of parents in the district responded with 80 percent stating they want their students back to school in person in some way. Of the parents that want their students back in school, he said, 48 percent preferred a full return and 46 percent preferred a hybrid model.

“If you dig a little deeper into the parent data and look at the kind of force-choosing models, if we go with all students in, we have about 79 percent of our students that will attend school and 21 percent that will go remote. If we go with the hybrid model, we have about 93 percent of our students that will attend school and 7 percent that are remote,” he continued.

When looking at data from staff, he said about 45 percent preferred staying remote and 55 percent preferred coming back to school.

Dr. Hunt said the district looked at two priorities when considering a starting model for the school year, which include providing a safe environment for students and staff and reaching kids consistently in school.

“I think that [hybrid] approach, walking in slowly, is the safest possible model that we could go with,” he said of student and staff safety.

As for reaching students consistently, he said the hybrid model, according to the statistics from the survey, has the highest success rate of doing just that with 93 percent of students attending school in person.

“Between the medical recommendations, the data from parents, the data from teachers, that kind of leads to where I feel we should open the schools,” he said. “This isn’t a full-year commitment. This is a step in, and we need to continue to evaluate.”

By controlling as many risk factors as possible, he said, hopefully the district can expand beyond the hybrid model and bring more students into the school buildings.

One parent, Chris Clark, participated live in the audience segment of the meeting and said he was “a little disappointed in the recommendation” to open schools with the hybrid model, stating that he was in favor of the all-in model.

He asked how the district plans to keep pace with neighboring districts opting for all-in models that outperform or are “on par” with Chagrin schools, noting Solon City Schools, which announced earlier this month a plan for an all-in model with a virtual option.

Mr. Clark also asked how the district determined spacing for the students, suggested looking to ZIP codes as opposed to the state number and color coding model for COVID-19 spread and questioned the schools’ ability to change models.

“I don’t see a way where we can move from virtual to all in,” he said. “We’re in an election year, we’re moving into flu season in October, and the heightened level of panic, in my mind, will just get even greater moving forward.”

Despite his opposing opinion with opening schools with the hybrid model, he noted that the district’s layers of protection, like face covering requirements, desk dividers or screening, was “impressive” and said he would feel comfortable sending his students to school the next day.

Dr. Hunt said he is not opposed to the all-in model but felt the hybrid model is a good step to get to the all-in model for the district.

In regard to ZIP code, Dr. Hunt said he agreed with Mr. Clark that the district should look at the density of new cases by ZIP code rather than county with high-density cities like Cleveland accounting for a majority of the new cases in Cuyahoga County. He said the district is working on finding a way to evaluate this since ZIP codes go across county lines.

On keeping pace with neighboring districts, he said he has faith in the teaching and learning in the district, adding that he is worried about the achievement gap of students, but the district plans to assess students and identify and close any gaps.

He added that the buildings do have space to spread students out more to allow more in-person instruction, but financially the district may not be able to provide staffing for the additional students.

“The weight of this decision, certainly, is something that I’ve spent a lot of time on. I hope I made it clear that I’m not opposed to an all-in model. I want an all-in model, I want our kids back, I want our staff back,” Dr. Hunt said. “I feel that transitioning into this provides us the opportunity to make sure we have everything in place so that when we flip to that all-in model, we’re able to stay in it because we’ve mitigated so much of the risk.”

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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