Full-day instruction is slated to start for all grade levels in the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District on Jan. 19, Superintendent Robert Hunt said last week.

Notification first went out to parents on Jan. 4 for the proposed plan to bring students back to in-person instruction after the winter break, Dr. Hunt reported during the Jan. 6 board of education meeting. Grades kindergarten through six resumed full-day, in-person instruction on Monday with grades seven through 12 returning to the hybrid model, both with the entirely online Chagrin Virtual Academy available.

The district opened the school year in a hybrid format with the Chagrin Virtual Academy available. The district switched grades kindergarten through six to all-day, in-person on Nov. 17 until a brief shift to remote Dec. 21-22 before winter break. They returned to in-person instruction Monday with seven through 12 in the hybrid model.

“The goal then is to target for Jan. 19,” Dr. Hunt said for full-day, in-person instruction for the upper grade levels. “We continue with K-6 in that same model, and we would return all students enrolled in the full-day option for instruction Monday through Thursday, while retaining Friday as a virtual day. [We would] obviously continue with the virtual academy as we move forward.”

Dr. Hunt said the district rolled out a survey for the 7-12 families and noted there had been a lot of fluctuation between models.

“We’re trying to get a better understanding of where our parents and our students are going to be for the rest of the year,” he said, directing special attention to determining how many students will remain on campus for the lunch period at the high school level.

He said one of the main concerns he’s received from parents is regarding the lunch periods for the different schools with the shift to a district-wide all-in model.

At Gurney Elementary School, Dr. Hunt said students would eat at different times per grade level with two students per table at assigned seats, spaced 6 feet apart with dividers, in the gym. Tables will be sanitized between each lunch period, he added.

For recess, he said masks will be required and students will be divided into three groups. “There’s the front playground area, back playground area and soccer field,” he explained. “Each group has their own bag of recess materials that’s sanitized, and groups are supervised by our staff members.”

For the Intermediate School, students attend lunch and recess by grade level, which will each be split in two parts.

“Half will be on the playground, and half will be eating lunch,” Dr. Hunt said. “In the lunchroom, students are seated with their home rooms, as well. At the halfway point, lunch and recess with those two groups would switch.” The tables will be sanitized and the dividers rotated so students aren’t sitting where another student sat prior.

At the middle school, six students will be seated at least 3 feet apart per cafeteria table with dividers. Lunch periods will be divided by grade levels, he said, adding that there will be additional precautions to monitor students as they collect their lunches. For recess, students will be split up between the art room, Project Lead the Way, the makerspace, library and gym.

At the high school, plans are still in motion, he said, as students and parents were still determining whether they would remain on or leave campus for their lunch period.

“Right now we have about 40 percent of our students [who] have committed to say they’re going to remain on campus. The rest are going to leverage open campus and try to go home and eat lunch,” Dr. Hunt told the board. Once the district has the actual data, students will be divided up into different common areas in the school to honor social distancing, with the necessary dividers, for the remainder of the quarter.

Dr. Hunt also addressed potential changes in quarantine protocol from Gov. Mike DeWine.

With the potential changes, students essentially may not be required to quarantine after interacting with a student or staff member who tests positive in a classroom setting if they are wearing masks and adhering to social distancing, “without any clarification to what that means,” Dr. Hunt said.

According to the Dec. 30 update from the governor’s office, the change was based on evaluation of virus spread from the Ohio Schools COVID-19 Evaluation Team.

“Moving forward, students and teachers exposed to a COVID-positive person in school are no longer required to quarantine as long as the exposure occurred in a classroom setting and all students/teachers were wearing masks and following other appropriate protocols,” the update states. “Preliminary results of the evaluation found no discernable difference in the risk of contracting the coronavirus between those in close contact with a COVID-positive person in the classroom and those who were farther away.”

In asking the Geauga and Cuyahoga county health departments for guidance, Dr. Hunt said Geauga was hesitant to follow this change.

“Part of this [change] was because there were school districts in Ohio where if you had one positive case, they automatically blanketed and quarantined the entire class. We have not done that; we’ve gone through contact tracing and tried to only quarantine those students [who] we felt were within 6 feet for more than 15 cumulative minutes,” Dr. Hunt explained, adding that he was not yet making any recommendations to change the district’s quarantine protocol.

Dr. Hunt said he was expected to meet with the Cuyahoga County Health Department by the end of last week for further guidance.

As for vaccines, Dr. Hunt said the district is compiling a list of staff members that could be in the next phase for vaccination priority per suggestion by Geauga County Public Health.

“We have started that work for our staff, finding out who would be willing to take it,” he said, “and then looking at the criteria of their preexisting conditions, things of that nature, to start to make a list and prioritize.”

Board member Greg Kanzinger asked if the health departments had any new information on the new strains of the virus detected that are “supposedly more contagious.”

“It was brought up in context of the vaccine,” Dr. Hunt said. “What they’re hearing is the vaccine still applies to that new strain. They did not talk about the aggressive nature of [it].”

Dr. Hunt added that he suspected the school wouldn’t begin seeing vaccinations until early spring, possibly in March or April.

Board President Phil Rankin asked Dr. Hunt how staff were doing over winter break in terms of case counts.

“There [were] 10 student cases [and] two staff,” Dr. Hunt said, adding that he believed there was an issue with a youth basketball group who were expected to come out of quarantine that week.

As of Monday, the district’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 10 active student cases, including one new case, and five active staff cases, including two new cases. As of Jan. 8, the district had 52 students under quarantine and five staff members under quarantine.

“I think this next week is going to be pretty informative to what our next steps might be and if that Jan. 19 [date] is a realistic date for return or not,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see and engage that as we go.”

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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