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Cleveland Schools to Begin Return to In-Person Learning March 1

a photo of an empty classroom
Ashton Marra
Students will return in phases based on level of assistance needed.

Updated: 2:52 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District will begin rolling out returns to in-person schooling March 1. The announcement comes after CMSD faced criticism from Gov. Mike DeWine last week for not having a plan in place.

DeWine had made restarting in-person classes by March 1 a condition of receiving the coronavirus vaccine for faculty and staff.

Students interested in returning will be sorted into groups based on the level of assistance needed, said CMSD CEO Eric Gordon.

“These are phased in, so we’ll be doing them in windows with some orientation, with some teacher professional development, and getting parents and students acclimated,” Gordon said.

The first group, consisting primarily of students with learning disabilities and some off-track seniors, will begin a hybrid learning model March 1. A second group, including English learners, off-track 9th and 12th graders, and pre-K through second grade students, will begin March 8. All remaining students will return March 15. Families will receive a mailer with more information starting next week.

The district will rely on a hybrid model, Gordon said, with students alternating in-person and remote learning throughout the week to limit the number of people in buildings at one time.

“Because of capacity and logistical issues, we are not able to bring all students back every day,” Gordon said.

About 54% of families in the district have expressed a desire to return to in-person learning, Gordon said. The remaining 46% will continue fully remote learning, he said. That divide creates additional challenges for the district, he said.

“We’re going to have to run two school systems, one for the kids who are back, and one for the kids who are not,” Gordon said. “And that’s part of why it’s been more complicated for us than other communities where most kids and families have returned.”

Gov. Mike DeWine called out CMSD in a press conference late last week for not having a plan to return to in-person learning. In order to continue receiving vaccines for teachers and staff, DeWine said, districts would have to plan a March 1 return.

CMSD officials have spoken with DeWine to explain the decisions behind a slower, phased-in return, Gordon said. The district will still be figuring out some of the ways to improve teaching both remote and in-person classes as it begins the return, he said.

“I and my team and our union are working really hard to get our kids back, but that having every kid back on March 1 was a goal that we weren’t likely to make,” Gordon said.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon by the Cleveland Teachers Union, President Shari Obrenski said the return should not be rushed due to pressure from DeWine and other politicians.

“Reopening schools safely is not a one-size-fits-all package that can simply be executed on demand,” she said. “The Cleveland community deserves better from Ohio’s elected leaders.”

Any return to in-person instruction should happen when adequate safety measures are in place, Obrenski added, not based on an “arbitrary timeline” established by the state.

“CTU members will return to in-person learning when it is safe for us and our students to return,” she said. “Until then, we will continue educating Cleveland’s children remotely.”

The district has vaccinated about 4,600 staff and faculty so far, Gordon said. Vaccinations for Friday and Saturday have been canceled due to weather-related delay of vaccine shipments, he said, but more will take place Feb. 25 and 26.

Some staff and families have expressed anxiety about returning in-person, Gordon said. But the district has outfitted buildings with signage, improved ventilation and installed safety precautions such as Plexiglass barriers, he said.

“I know people have anxiety about this, and that anxiety got worse when we got a lot of public attention,” Gordon said. “But I also know there’s a lot of excitement about getting to see our kids in-person again, even if they have to see each other six feet apart.”

Spring athletics are set to begin Feb. 22, Gordon said. That includes baseball, softball, boys tennis and outdoor track.

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