Solon City School District began the new academic year on Wednesday for grades one through 12, with additional orientation programs and activities in place to help ease the transition, officials said, as well as an updated mask policy.

Kindergarten students are set to begin classes on Friday and preschool on Monday.

“Many of our students spent all or a good portion of the last school year learning from home remotely through Zoom,” District Communication Director Tamara Strom said. “These back-to school programs are aimed at helping students reconnect with peers, acclimate to the school building and lessen any anxiety they may feel about the return to school on campus.”

First days of school are always “all hands on deck,” Ms. Strom added, to help students navigate the halls and find classrooms more easily. 

There are 4,544 students in the Solon School District, with nearly all of them learning in-person this year, Ms. Strom noted.

“We have fewer than 20 students districtwide who will be enrolled in the online learning academy,” she said.

Mask protocols in place for this school year are based on the most up-to-date guidance from national, state and local public health experts and take into account community, student and staff vaccination status as well as other ongoing mitigation efforts, Ms. Strom explained.

To start the 2021-2022 school year, grades pre-kindergarten through sixth, masks will be required indoors for students, staff, visitors and volunteers. For grades 7-12, wearing masks indoors is strongly recommended for students, staff, visitors and volunteers, regardless of vaccination status, Ms. Strom said.

Wearing masks will be required for school bus riders, including students and staff under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public transportation rules, which include school buses, Ms. Strom said. 

Currently, students and staff will not need to wear masks outdoors during the school day for recess, outdoor gym classes or other outside activities, she added. 

Students with medical conditions preventing them from wearing a mask will need to submit a note from their health care provider, Ms. Strom noted. 

These protocols are dependent on low incidences of COVID-19 in the Solon schools and could change if conditions and/or vaccination status warrant it, Ms. Strom continued.

“If case incidence data in our ZIP code and our school community rise significantly, we will not hesitate to implement more protections, including universal masking, for grades 7-12,” Ms. Strom said.

This year, in general, will look differently than last as nearly all Solon school students will be back on campus, she said.

Also, the classrooms and cafeterias will not have desk shields as the CDC does not endorse their use as a way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 this year, she added.

“COVID-19 protocols continue to impact the look of the school day, but with just about all students back in the buildings, school will more resemble the start of the 2019 school year than the start of 2020,” Ms. Strom said. “We are trying to conduct as many activities for students as possible to provide a greater sense of normalcy while still being cognizant that we remain in a pandemic.”

Other COVID-19 protocols in place that remain important include sanitization, cleaning, hand washing, hospital grade ventilation and as much distancing as possible. 

This has all been communicated to families prior to the start of school.

Ms. Strom said the district’s hopes for the new school year revolve around continuing to provide the highest quality education for all of its students and support their social-emotional needs.

“We want them to be able to participate in as many typical activities as possible,” she said.

But at the same time, “we know that rising COVID-19 cases again could alter those plans,” she said. “We hope that is not the case here in our community.”

High vaccination rates in the Solon 44139 area code should provide a larger measure of protection and help to stave off higher numbers of COVID cases locally, Ms. Strom said.

“But we know our students under 12 make up a large percentage of the Solon and Glenwillow residents who are not vaccinated because they are not yet eligible,” she added. “So, our biggest hope for this year is that our students, staff members and families stay well.”

For the last decade, Sue Reid has covered the government, business climate and residents of Solon. A Times reporter for 22 years, Ms. Reid has earned commendations from the Ohio Newspaper Association and Cleveland Press Association.

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