In light of two positive COVID-19 cases, the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District has its sights set on mid-November for potentially “flipping the switch” to an all-in learning model, Superintendent Robert Hunt said last week. He said he expects to make a formal recommendation to the board of education at the Oct. 21 meeting.

Dr. Hunt made the announcement during the regular Oct. 7 board of education meeting that beginning plans for transitioning to an all-in model from the district’s current hybrid model was “appropriate” given their current trends via the COVID-19 dashboard.

The district started and has remained in the hybrid model since the start of school in August, where students are in class for half of their day and learning remotely for the other half. An entirely virtual option is also available.

Despite the two positive cases of COVID-19 in the district resulting in the quarantining of 31 students and one staff member, according to the district’s Oct. 2 update to their dashboard, Dr. Hunt said overall the COVID-19 environment in the district has remained “stable.”

As of Oct. 9, Chagrin schools’ COVID-19 dashboard indicated the district has three cumulative cases since Aug. 1 with the two active cases. There were no new cases in the most recent update.

Dr. Hunt pointed to indicators over the course of five weeks, beginning with the week ending Sept. 4 and ending with the week ending Oct. 2. Indicators on the dashboard include supply of personal protective equipment and implementation of health and safety protocol, student and staff attendance and the state advisory system.

“We worked tremendously hard with our staff to put a good plan in place, but implementation was the most important thing,” Dr. Hunt said. “I think we demonstrated a great deal of success with a very difficult situation. In terms of the area of health and safety, I think we’ve done a very good job and continue to do so.”

In terms of student attendance, while the two positive cases at the high school resulting in 31 students under quarantine and one teacher, Dr. Hunt noted that the quarantined students are not counted as absent because they switched to the virtual model for the time being. Overall attendance rates in all four buildings remained in the upper-90-percent, according to the dashboard.

“[I’m] not at a point today that I would recommend going, ‘We need to go remote because we have 31 students [in quarantine],’ but I think [it’s] a very good indicator to include and watch as we evaluate [this] going forward,” Dr. Hunt said, noting that the district is now tracking numbers of quarantined students and staff along with their attendance.

With staff, Dr. Hunt showed that attendance rates neared or hit 100-percent within the five weeks presented.

“I commend them for their professionalism and commitment,” Dr. Hunt said. “Attendance has been great, I will say, better than any year prior. I think that says a lot about the commitment of our staff.”

In regard to the state advisory system, Dr. Hunt said, “Over the last month, Cuyahoga County has consistently stayed orange. Geauga had a bit of a spike in numbers and it has come back down [in yellow]. So we consider that, based on the advisory model, that we’re stable.”

As of their Oct. 9 update, Geauga County rose back to orange.

“Based on the data over five weeks, I think it’s appropriate that we plan for a full-day return,” Dr. Hunt told the board, noting that he needs to be clear that “planning and saying, ‘This is the date where we’re coming back,” are two very different things.”

He explained that the transition needs to be effective and efficient. The district has students in both counties.

“For us to do that, it takes a great deal of time,” he said. “I estimate three to four weeks to get the data and be prepared to implement a full-day return.”

Steps to consider

In a letter to parents, Dr. Hunt asked for them to commit to a learning model for their students for the remainder of the school year in the event the district is able to make the switch to an all-in model. In this model, he said, an entirely remote option would remain available. Parents have until Oct. 16 (this Friday) to make this commitment.

“I want to remind the board of two commitments we made. We made a commitment to our virtual learning learners that at the [end of the] trimester, which is in November, we would give them an opportunity to evaluate their current position, whether they want to remain virtual or if they’d like to come back into whatever model we have,” Dr. Hunt said. “We also said that we would do the same for our secondary students [in grades] seven [through] 12.”

Dr. Hunt outlined key areas across the district that would need attention before the switch to in-person, should it remain feasible, can move forward.

After parents make their selections by the Oct. 16 deadline as to whether they would remain virtual or in school in the event of an all-in model, the district will begin preparation for full-day school through Nov. 16, with Dr. Hunt’s formal recommendation slated for the Oct. 21 board meeting.

Changes to consider include balancing class lists and planning for alternative learning spaces at the secondary level to keep social distancing with increased numbers of students, Dr. Hunt said. “We want to keep our numbers as low as we possibly can to keep as much distance as we can,” he said.

“At the elementary schedule, you’re looking at a complete redo of the master schedule [at Gurney and the Intermediate School],” he added. “Class lists would be redone. We would strive to keep as many students with current teachers as possible, but there would be students impacted that would be shifted.”

For all buildings, he said the district needs to evaluate arrival and dismissal with temperature checking, transportation routes if more students come to school and need busing, internal hallway traffic and room configurations.

He explained that switching from virtual to in-person is different between grades seven through 12 from kindergarten through six, noting there is more flexibility for students in grades seven through 12 because of the structure in place.

“Staffing really becomes an issue when we start moving students from virtual to being in the building or vice versa at the elementary,” Dr. Hunt said. The district should limit the amount of times students, especially younger students, switch between teachers, he said.

“But I do want to, I guess, prop the door open to say we will look at this again in the trimester,” he added. “If there is a path that wouldn’t cause dramatic teacher shifts and change to both our virtual and our in class students, we’re certainly going to pursue that option. But we know today that we need to understand the data so we can begin the work.”

Numbers so far

Based on responses the district has received from parents so far, Dr. Hunt presented preliminary numbers for what the schools could expect for in-person versus virtual students in an all-in model. Data for kindergarten students and grades one through 12 were separate.

The district currently has 123 students in kindergarten with 89 in the hybrid model and 34 virtual. Dr. Hunt said he had received 93 responses as of last week. Of the 34 students in the hybrid model, 17 parents had responded with 10 wanting to switch to the all-in model and seven choosing to remain virtual.

Dr. Hunt said the district, by law, must offer all three models to kindergarten students, including half days, tuition-based full days and virtual.

District Treasurer Ashley Brudno noted that the district is still working out the details of how to coordinate the tuition for full-day kindergartners to avoid a need to issue refunds in the event the district has to switch back to all-virtual like in the spring.

Board member Sharon Broz asked if it would be possible to maintain all three models for all students, allowing a mix of hybrid, all-in and virtual students.

Dr. Hunt said this would not be possible for the district, noting they would stretch their teachers too thin.

For grades one through 12, there are 1,300 students enrolled in the hybrid model, he said, and 283 in the virtual model. Of the virtual students, 37 so far indicated that they will switch to in-person for the all-in model. Of the in-person students, 13 so far indicated that an all-in model would push them to virtual, Dr. Hunt said.

“If we make a lot of assumptions on people [who] haven’t responded yet, if I were just to assume that they were all good with where they’re at and that’s where they’re staying, we’d have approximately 1,324 students come [to the all-in model], and we’d have about 259 student in our virtual academy,” he said. “The huge caveat though, there’s a lot of people that still need to complete this [survey].”

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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