Due to the surge of COVID-19 cases, Geauga County Health Commissioner Thomas Quade discussed the possibility of virtual learning with the Kenston Board of Education during a work session on Monday.
Mr. Quade said that daily case counts have been doubling since September and he does not expect to see a change in the trajectory of coronavirus cases.
While other public schools in the Chagrin Valley started the year virtually in the fall, Kenston began with and maintained in-person classes. Kenston also continuously offered a fully remote option. As of Tuesday, there are three active staff cases of COVID-19 at Timmons Elementary School and in the transportation department. There are two active student cases at Kenston High School.
Superintendent Nancy Santilli said that the administration has finished planning the fully remote districtwide model. But officials as of early this week have yet to decide when or if the district will make the switch to a remote learning plan.
Mr. Quade said that Kenston has the most thorough back-to-school plan and he uses it as an example for other districts. Although the schools are taking every safety precaution during in person learning, Mr. Quade said that some things are still out of their control.
“There really isn’t anything to suggest it’s going to turn around,” Mr. Quade said of the rise in COVID-19 cases. “That’s why I’m not sleeping right now.”
As of Monday, Geauga County had 1,564 coronavirus cases and 51 deaths during the last nine months, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
In the winter season, people are spending more time indoors. The upcoming holidays are bringing extended families together in large groups, even though it is ill-advised by medical professionals this year due to the pandemic. Mr. Quade said that it is up to the school district to determine the appropriate time to “go remote.” He said that this is a conversation that the board and the health department can have together, rather than waiting for the health department to shut the school down.
According to Mr. Quade, it could be a matter of days or weeks before school districts will need to switch to full remote learning. Nobody wants to be the first to make the call, he said, but nobody wants to be the last either.
“You set out a good point that we need to make decisions, and we need to do that either, in your words, ‘by design or by default.’ Having that plan helps us focus our energies on the resources that we do have and what we need to do,” Mrs. Santilli said.
Mr. Quade said that when Kenston and other districts plan ahead, they will be prepared when it is necessary to switch to remote learning. A switch to virtual learning can happen “by default” if the district cannot adequately staff its positions due to employees who are quarantined, for example.
Board Vice President Neysa Gaskins asked about sports and extracurriculars when school becomes fully virtual. Mr. Quade said that if it were up to him, he would have ended those activities a month ago. By making students follow strict safety rules in the buildings but not in sports, he said that the students hear an inconsistent message. He also said that students from different school districts mix during athletic events.
Mrs. Santilli said that the board needs to review these considerations and consider the ideal time to transition. She mentioned possibly having virtual learning after Thanksgiving break through the end of the year, then returning to the in-person model in January.
“I have no problems as the leadership of the district to say ‘We’re going to do this’ or ‘We’re going to do that’ even if it’s unfavorable,” Mrs. Santilli said. “I understand that. There’s just no win.”
The board met in a regular session on Monday.