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As more schools release detailed reopening plans for fall, similar challenges arise

If a student or staff member tests positive for covid-19, the school may never know, or be able to inform others, because of privacy laws

BRECKSVILLE, Ohio — During a virtual town hall meeting Monday, the Brecksville-Broadview Heights City School District presented its detailed plan to reopen schools in the fall.

The district joins others in Northeast Ohio that are planning a hybrid approach to learning, with a mix of in-person instruction and remote learning, while Cuyahoga county is under the state's "red" coronavirus risk level, which indicates very high exposure and spread.

To lower building capacity and allow for social distancing, students with last names ending in A-L will attend in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, While students M-Z will attend on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be dedicated to deep cleaning and disinfecting school buildings. Students will do remote learning three days a week.

Should the county's risk level rise to the highest "purple" level 4, indicating severe exposure and spread, the district will shift to all remote learning. 

The district will also make masks mandatory for students grades 1-12, and all staff inside school buildings, with medical exceptions. Students on school buses will be limited to two children per seat, and face coverings are required to be worn.

"We received just as many emails from parents who didn't want their kids wearing masks all day, as parents who urged us to require masks," said Superintendent Joelle Magyar. "We erred on the side of safety, but understanding the reality that preschoolers and 4-5-year-olds wearing masks, and the difficulty with those children. So it was determined by our board that we would mandate masks for students grades 1 through 12," she said.

A few parents wanted to know what plans the district had if a student or staff member tested positive for coronavirus. Many were surprised to learn that the district may not even know if there were a positive test, or be able to inform those who had close contact with a positive case because of HIPAA privacy laws.

"We may never know if someone is diagnosed," said Magyar. "We rely on parents to let us know about say, a strep or flu diagnosis, and we definitely have protocols in place for that. But in this particular case [of coronavirus] there is no reporting requirement."

A spokesperson for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health says families are urged to voluntarily inform schools of a positive case of COVID-19.

"I think what we're trying to appeal here, is a type of universal compassion," said Kevin Brennan, communications director for CCBH. "What we would hope is that families would find a place in their heart to help other families and be civic-minded, knowing that the community is in this together," he said.

Magyar said districts are still waiting for guidance from the CDC and the state, on how to handle a positive case when they hear of one. Until then, the district's plan remains fluid.

"This [plan] is not the end game, this is the start of the game," she said.

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