The Orange Board of Education met Monday to discuss further details of reopening school for a blended learning model, but the board members present were coincidentally in a blended model as well.
Superintendent Lynn Campbell, Treasurer Todd Puster, board Vice President Rebecca Boyle and board members Melanie Weltman and Jeff Leikin met in person at the Pepper Pike Learning Center. This is where the board met prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, then their meetings switched to Zoom.
Board President Beth Wilson-Fish and member Deborah Kamat joined the board virtually. Mrs. Kamat said that it was her choice to join the meeting virtually rather than in person. She said that she does not believe the board should meet in person right now for health and safety reasons. Mrs. Wilson-Fish said that she support in person meetings but joined virtually due to illness.
The full meeting audio was live streamed on the district website.
As Dr. Campbell and the board members discussed Cuyahoga County Board of Health guidance and considerations for returning to school, possibly on Oct. 19, Mrs. Kamat voiced her opposition to in-person learning and sports during the pandemic.
“I know I’m not going to be the most popular person tonight, but I do have to vote my conscience,” she said. As a point of clarification, there was no official vote about returning to school in person or playing sports.
Mrs. Kamat said that although she admires the work of Dr. Campbell and the administration to create a safe plan to return to school, she is not comfortable with bringing children back to the buildings yet. She said that the Cuyahoga County Board of Health recommended virtual learning and it would be “foolish” not to follow that advice.
On Monday, the board of health released a K-12 school reopening framework. It is not an order, but it provides recommendations under the four scenarios defined by the Ohio Public Health Advisory system. Cuyahoga County is rated as an orange county, the second lowest on the four-tier scale.
The framework document gives advice for if a county is categorized as orange for four weeks and has a COVID-19 test positivity rate of less than 5 percent. In that case, it says that virtual learning may be the best option if various Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations cannot be met, such as small cohorts, alternating schedules and aggressive cleaning.
When Orange Athletic Director Katie Hine gave an update on how the sports teams are following safety protocols, Mrs. Kamat asked how Ms. Hine knows that other schools are following the same protocols. Ms. Hine said that she has spoken to representatives from other districts but there are no signed agreements or paperwork.
“I am very much opposed to our students engaging in contact sports with each other and with other teams in particular under the present circumstances. I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Mrs. Kamat said.
Ms. Weltman said that it is difficult to find the right balance. Some parents are willing to send their children to sports practices and games while others have trepidation. Although Mrs. Kamat is not in support of resuming sports, which have already started, she said she understands that some students rely on sports scholarships to attend college.
According to the information released Monday by the county board of health, schools in the orange risk level may consider resuming low-risk extracurricular activities and sports, meaning that they can be done with social distancing by participants and observers. The board of health recommendation also states that masks should be worn by spectators and, if feasible, participants.
Mrs. Wilson-Fish said that the district is trying to do what is best for the athletes and the coaches but said that it is “tough for all of us.”