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Debate for return to in-person schooling continues in Shaker Heights

A group founded by a pediatrician wants Shaker Schools to restart in-person learning, as the district debates a plan to reopen as early as November 4.

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Coronavirus is making life challenging for most parents across Northeast Ohio. We know that every school district has its own plan and as cases of the virus rise, some caregivers are being put in difficult positions. 

In Shaker Heights, a new group called SHIPS, Shaker Heights for In-Person Schooling, wants everyone to return to their classrooms safely, but sooner than later. One of the founders of the group is a parent and pediatrician, Dr. Anandhi Gunder.

“Clearly a lot of us feel that in person learning offers the best academic value, nutritional support, mental health support, (and for) kids who have additional learning requirements, it offers that a lot better than we can do at home,” says Dr. Gunder.

But other parents who like remote learning like Collyn Mauldin say Shaker Heights City Schools should remain virtual.

“Shaker is really making a way that virtual can be successful, so the push for in person is a little confusing to me because Shaker is doing an amazing job virtually,” says Mauldin.

Dr. Gunder says if other school districts can make it work, she’s confident Shaker can too.

“Whether it’s the younger children in a hybrid model and (schools) prove that it works with their safety protocol. That may make other parents or teachers feel comfortable that ‘Hey, we can make this work’,” says Dr. Gunder.

Mauldin says It’s not only about school safety precautions, but who the kids are exposed to who could be asymptomatic.

“I’m sure they’re taking precautions around their children, but we just can’t voluntarily put other peoples’ children at risk to be around another population of students whether it’s one day a week of five days a week,” says Mauldin.

Even with an uptick in Ohio’s Covid-19 numbers, SHIPS says in-person schooling is simply the best.

“Even in the face of rising rates and transmission that schools are still a priority and if we can make them safe, then we can continue to offer that service to our kids,” says Dr. Gunder.

The Shaker Heights City School District's board of education met in a work session Tuesday night to discuss its plan to return students to the classroom either November 4 or November 9.

Superintendent David Glasner cited zero-to-low coronavirus transmission rates among students in schools. However, board member Emmitt Jolly, who is also a CWRU biology professor, noted that Cuyahoga County is on the verge of moving to the state's highest risk level 4, designated as purple, for severe exposure and spread.

"It's like a hurricane," said Jolly. "We're not going to be in a full-blown hurricane for long. And I would caution you about going in immediately during the middle of a hurricane."

However, board member Ayesha Bell Hardaway disagreed, arguing that neighboring districts have already returned to the classroom. "Two blocks from my house, students are going back every day, 5 days a week. And I'm having a hard time how we can justify [not returning]," she said.

In neighboring district Cleveland Heights-University Heights, students are engaged in fully remote learning until at least November 16. Meanwhile in Beachwood City Schools, elementary students are participating in full, in-person learning 5 days a week, while middle and high schoolers are attending 4 half days of school each week, with remote learning the rest of the time. In nearby Warrensville Heights, the district announced on Tuesday that students will move to remote learning if Cuyahoga county is elevated to the purple risk level 4.