The hybrid model is still a go for the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District.

In a special meeting of the Chagrin Falls Board of Education last week, Superintendent Robert Hunt said his original recommendation to start the school year in the hybrid model with the option for remote learning still stands. This decision follows the Cuyahoga County Health Department’s recommendation that schools start the semester virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“As of today, my recommendation is unchanged. That is that we open school in a hybrid model,” Dr. Hunt said during the Aug. 5 Zoom meeting streamed on YouTube, adding that the district will allow all noncontact sports as defined by the state to resume practice and competition and contact sports to return to “phase two” by Ohio High School Athletic Association standards.

Dr. Hunt highlighted his reasoning for this decision, including the district’s location in both Cuyahoga and Geauga counties, prerequisites needed for Cuyahoga County to lift their recommendation and state and local information on COVID-19 cases in the community.

The Chagrin school district is made up of communities from both Cuyahoga and Geauga counties, including Chagrin Falls, Bentleyville, South Russell and parts of Moreland Hills.

“I believe it to be critical that at every juncture we take the time to evaluate data, talk to medical professionals and then make the best decisions we possibly can based on the information we have,” Dr. Hunt said. “That has been and will remain our process moving forward.”

Upon receiving the Cuyahoga County recommendation to start virtually, Dr. Hunt said a few questions came to mind, like the difference between health recommendations and orders and what Geauga County’s response is to Cuyahoga’s recommendation.

“County boards of health have legal authority in the form of a board order to immediately compel action either by an individual or an operator to protect the public’s health. Other times, it’s more appropriate for a county board to issue guidance or recommendations for individuals or organizations to consider for the same purposes,” Dr. Hunt explained of the difference between recommendations and orders. “In other words, this [recommendation] is intended to inform the decisions of schools as they deem what’s appropriate for their individual communities.”

Dr. Hunt said he consulted both Geauga and Cuyahoga health departments when making the decisions to keep the hybrid option.

In talking with the Cuyahoga department, Dr. Hunt said he was informed that the county will need to see a four- to six-week decline in COVID-19 cases, a move to the advisory level of orange and increased ability for testing kids for the virus, among others, before lifting the recommendation.

“So that indicates to me that a decision we make now to go remote would be a minimum of a nine- to 10-week commitment at this point,” he said.

As of Monday, Cuyahoga County was in the red with 114.57 cases per 100,000 people, and Geauga County was in the yellow with 35.24 cases per 100,000 people, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Dr. Hunt added that Geauga County Health Commissioner Thomas Quade indicated that a recommendation in Geauga for remote learning was unlikely as of last week’s meeting due to having a much lower count of cases compared to Cuyahoga County.

Within the past two weeks, Cuyahoga County had 1,415 new cases out of a total population of about 1.2 million, and Geauga County had 33 out of a total population of about 93,600, according to the state.

Dr. Hunt added that looking at state and county data, the number of COVID-19 cases in the district’s community are either stagnant or on a downward trend compared to when he first made his recommendation for the hybrid model in July.

There is still room to change this recommendation, though.

“It’s important that we all realize that this [pandemic] continues to change. I will reiterate, we will continue to evaluate and make decisions in a thoughtful manner. My hope is the recommendation this evening is how we will open school, and I think it’s important for our community to understand what might change in terms of that framework,” Dr. Hunt said.

He explained that there are four key components the district will look to when determining whether they need to switch to remote. These include any government order that all Ohio schools need to start remotely, a “significant outbreak” of the virus within the community, state advisory changes for either county or if Geauga County were to make a similar recommendation to that of Cuyahoga concerning a remote start.

Due to Cuyahoga’s recommendation, the district had extended the July 31 registration deadline for hybrid or remote instruction to Aug. 7 following the special meeting in case parents or students wished to change their decision.

Board Vice President Greg Kanzinger asked if parents could switch models after school started if they requested close enough to the start of the school year.

Dr. Hunt said the district will commit staffing based on the results of the registration deadline, but added, “We will accommodate, the best that we can, changes if they come about, but that will be restricted based on our staffing level.”

As of last week’s special meeting, Dr. Hunt said 1,408 students had signed up for the hybrid model and 258 had signed up for the virtual model.

Dr. Hunt reminded parents and members of the community that as the pandemic evolves and the district adjusts, “we are the calming force in children’s lives and constantly their role models. How we respond to these challenges and decisions impacts them immensely.

“We have to be able to manage the eb and the flow of the crisis without letting it divide our school and community,” he continued, “which will have a negative impact far beyond this pandemic.”

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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