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‘We Don’t Want to Lose Students’: Cleveland Schools To Offer Remote Classes in the Fall

By Patrick O’Donnell | June 14, 2021

Some Cleveland school district students are back in classrooms this month as part of the district’s Summer Learning Experience, an all in-person program aimed at welcoming kids back to school buildings. But some are still reluctant, so the district will keep offering online classes when school starts in September. (Cleveland Municipal School District)

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Facing lingering concerns from parents over COVID-19, Cleveland schools will continue to offer online classes this fall even as in person classes will resume five days a week.

District CEO Eric Gordon told the school board last week some parents are still not comfortable sending their children back to classrooms in the fall, often because younger students are unvaccinated. Gordon wants them to have a remote choice so that they won’t move away or enroll their children in a remote charter school.

“We don’t want to lose students because we don’t have a plan for them,” he said. “But that really will be the backup plan, not the primary plan.”

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He stressed: “We don’t want to promote a remote school for most students. We want them back in person.”

Schools nationwide are almost all reopening classrooms in the fall, as COVID case counts keep falling and children 12 and older can now receive vaccinations. But districts are divided over whether to keep offering the online classes created during the pandemic or whether to shut those down and draw students back to in-person classrooms.

A just-released Education Week survey of districts estimated that 56 percent of schools will offer a remote learning option in the fall, with 39 percent saying they will offer none.

New York City schools have killed the remote classes, shifting to in-person in the fall, while states like New Jersey and Illinois are removing, or severely limiting, the emergency waivers that let classes go online when COVID cases started rising in the spring of 2020.

But several large districts, like Houston, Los Angeles and Las Vegas say they will continue giving parents a choice between online classes or sending their children back in person.

A major reason for those districts and for Cleveland, is that COVID vaccines are still not approved for children under 12. When and how to allow those is still being debated by the Food and Drug Administration and may not be resolved by fall. Gordon said many parents have told him they will not send their children back until they are vaccinated.

How many Cleveland students over 12 have been vaccinated is not clear, though teenagers have been welcomed at public vaccination sites in recent weeks and the district has both created clinics at schools and bussed students to clinics.

Gordon said there are also parents who do not believe vaccines are safe, but also do not want to expose their children to COVID risks.

Then, he said, there is a small number of students who are thriving in online classes and doing better than when they came to school. He wants them to be able to continue online.

“There’s no one size fits all,” Gordon said. “There’s actually some people that really enjoyed this experience.”

How many parents would choose to keep students online is also unclear. This April, when Cleveland reopened its classrooms for the first time since March, 2020, parents of about 9,000 of its 36,000-plus students chose to stay remote.

In addition, only 7,000 students have enrolled in the district’s in-person “Summer Learning Experience,” which started this week. How many students are skipping it because of COVID concerns or just because they want a summer break, however, is not known.

Parents reached by The 74 were mixed. Some said they want their children back in school because online learning did not go well last year, while another said her students have asthma and she would rather help them at home than take risks.

Others just don’t know. Michael Wallace, father of a fourth grade daughter who just moved to Cleveland, said he’s waiting to see what cases look like when it is closer to September.

“She wants to go back with kids, but I haven’t made a decision yet,” Wallace said. “I’m probably about 50-50.”

District officials are still working with the Cleveland Teachers Union on what fall remote classes will look like. Gordon said students will be online, on camera with teachers, like they did this year. But the district and union are talking to parents and teachers about what worked well online this past year and what didn’t as they set a new plan.

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