ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — Rocky River City Schools delayed a decision Wednesday night for students' full return to classrooms, pending more coronavirus data expected to be released by Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday. The debate comes as Ohio reported back-to-back days of more than 4,000 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday and Wednesday.
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Dozens of parents, wearing masks and socially distancing, attended a special meeting of the school board inside the Rocky River High School auditorium to discuss whether to continue the district's hybrid model or fully reopen schools. Parents who addressed board members were clearly divided on how best to educate kids during the pandemic.
"When especially my son tells me that he needs to learn more, that tells me that he's not being challenged," Andrea Kimmel said. "I want to make sure that my kids are getting enough educational instruction, so that they'll be ready for next year."
However a parent and teacher who addressed the board encouraged members not to deviate from their hybrid model and earlier plan to transition to remote learning if Cuyahoga County's risk level rises to "purple" Level 4, which is an indication of "severe" coronavirus exposure and spread.
"So the only choices I have are to send my kid into an unsafe environment where they are within three feet of other kids for seven hours a day, plus a lunch period where all the masks are off because they're eating and drinking, or be solely remote?" he asked. "Why can't we just continue with what is safe, and what is working?"
Meanwhile, others disagreed, like one parent who asked board members, "How are districts all around us, including [Magnificat High School] 500 yards away, managing this thing called COVID with their students?" She added her belief that children do not spread the virus.
However, experts say there is conflicting research on how much children spread the virus within schools and to the wider community. The Academy of Pediatrics reports the number of children diagnosed with COVID-19 hit a record-high last week, more than in any other week during the pandemic. Children now represent 11% of all U.S. cases, up from just 2% in mid-April. Doctors say the true number is likely even higher, because many children have mild symptoms and are never tested.
Several Northeast Ohio districts are feeling pressured by parents who see other schools that are fully open and have found themselves abandoning their original plans for all-remote learning during a purple risk level. But in Rocky River, Superintendent Dr. Michael Shoaf sent a letter to parents just last week announcing that the district would immediately transition to remote learning if the county's risk level were to be elevated to purple.
On Wednesday, however, Shoaf changed his tune. He told the board, "If we turn purple, my recommendation would be to continue with the hybrid model, six-feet social distancing, and allow parents who want to opt out to opt out."