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Schools implement COVID plans and policies as students return from winter break

From learning in-person to virtually, schools across Northeast Ohio are welcoming students back in a variety of different ways while omicron cases continue to climb.

OHIO, USA — With winter break coming to an end for many students across Northeast Ohio, schools are welcoming back students in a variety of different ways, with districts implementing their own plans given rising omicron cases.

“We feel strongly that if we can get kids back to school, it’s really the best place for them, and to use the multiple layers of protection that we have to keep them safe,” said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of infection control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, and co-director for University Hospitals health system.

However, Dr. Hoyen said these decisions are also dependent on the individual school system, their resources and staffing, and the local situation.

“I think it would be important for school districts also to consider, ‘do they have the bandwidth to bring kids back?’” Dr. Hoyen said. “Again, right now we know that using regular masks, isolation masks, are great against the spread of COVID, and so if we can get kids back to school, this is really a time where we do endorse masking.”

Dr. Hoyen said multiple studies show that if kids are masked in the classroom, that is typically not where they are contracting COVID-19, instead referencing out of school events.

Additionally, Dr. Hoyen said we can likely expect an increase in omicron cases in the coming days and weeks. She recommended parents get their kids vaccinated and continue masking, social distancing, and hand washing.

“If it’s easier for a district to perhaps do a week virtual, then if that saves kids from being pulled out of school once they get there, again, I think people really need to be looking at what their local situation is and working with both their public health and health systems to figure out how to keep them safe,” she said.

In a video message, Eric Gordon, CEO of Cleveland Metropolitan School District, shared that students would begin 2022 learning virtually. In the statement, he said in part, “Based upon the currently available health data and the guidance I’ve received, CMSD will be implementing our remote learning plan for all District schools for the week of January 3rd, including for the staff professional day on Monday and all student classes on Tuesday through Friday.”

Shari Obrenski, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union, said they would like to get kids back to learning in-person, but they cannot do so without adequate staffing numbers, something that’s been a challenge with the number of COVID absences.

“It seemed to be the best course of action given the number of cases we have in the community right now,” Obrenski said of the decision to start the year virtually. “The last couple of weeks prior to the break was very difficult in our classrooms. We were seeing rising cases among students and staff to a degree where in a number of schools, we simply did not have enough staff in order to adequately man all of the classrooms.”

Obrenski said with increasing cases and a lack of substitute teachers, alternative options like combining classes were not safe.

“Often what was occurring is that we would have to combine classes,” she said. “When you’re trying to maintain some level of social distancing and trying to employ other mitigation strategies, it’s very difficult when you are pushing classes together. It completely flies in the face of everything you need to do to keep people safe.”

Obrenski said COVID cases aren’t only impacting their number of teachers available, but other staff members like custodians and bus drivers.

“We are definitely wanting to get kids back in person, but we have to have the adults in place to be able to do that,” she said. “And that’s one of the things that we’re struggling with right now, because the COVID cases are certainly hitting our staff in all areas.”

CMSD is not the only district making a change upon returning to school. An update on the Riverside Local Schools website shares that, “Winter Break for all students across the District will be extended through Wednesday, January 5. It is our hope that this will keep infected students and staff at home to start the calendar year. This rationale is also supported by the Lake County General Health District.” 

The statement goes on to read that classes will resume on Thursday, Jan. 6, with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th being used as “calamity days.” 

The Twinsburg City School District shared in a letter to families that students will be learning remotely from Jan. 3rd-14th, writing, "Doing so will allow the necessary incubation period following the holidays."

In a message from the superintendent, Akron Public Schools announced they will resume class in-person on Jan. 4. In a statement to 3News, the district wrote, “Akron Public Schools continues to align its safety protocols with guidelines just released by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) to keep schools open. We will continue to recommend a continued focus on vaccines, testing, masking and symptom monitoring. We are committed to giving our students as normal a year as possible by striving to minimize large outbreaks and the worst impacts of the virus on our community, especially serious illness and hospitalizations.”

For a more extensive list of school schedules, plans, and policies for the beginning of 2022, click here.