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Cleveland schools begin phased return to in-person learning after teachers union, district reach agreement

Some Cleveland students will be back in the classroom starting Friday with the bulk of students returning in the coming weeks.

CLEVELAND — It’s official. Some Cleveland students will be back in the classroom starting this Friday with the bulk of students returning in the coming weeks. The Cleveland Teachers Union and Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) leaders came to an agreement Monday night determining schools are safe to reopen.

“Tomorrow we have people returning to buildings and by the end of the week we will have students starting to return for in person learning,” said Shari Obrenski, President of the Cleveland Teachers Union.

The districts reopening plans were delayed a week after debate over whether or not buildings were safe. Union members wanted proof that there was enough PPE and cleaning protocols in place and verification that air purification systems were in place where needed. At the same time, the district said all the work had already been done. Over the last few days, the two sides have worked to make sure all requirements were met.

“This was really about proving that what we said was true is true – giving those assurances,” said Eric Gordon, CEO and Superintendent of CMSD. “We created building level teams that did two audits - one late last week and one again yesterday - to do things like find and place PPE that was in storage rooms and needed to be put out in classrooms.”

Late last week prior to these inspections, union members voted not to return to buildings.

“Those walkthroughs had not been fully completed by Friday. And those that had were showing that we had some issues in the buildings where they didn’t have everything that we needed,” said Obrenski.

Obrenski says the district has been able to make progress over the last few days and says going forward, making sure buildings are safe will be a team effort.

She added, “we’re all sharing responsibility to make sure that we are opening with safe buildings and that we’re keeping them safe.”

With an agreement in place, some students are set to make a return to the classroom on Friday with a majority of students returning in the coming weeks. The district released a detailed hybrid reopening plan so that families know what to expect.

Students will be placed into groups that would attend class two days per week – either Monday and Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday. Even though it’s not a complete return to normal, teachers and administrators are both looking forward to seeing students’ faces again – even if they’re masked.

“This isn’t the way we left school on March 13th of last year. It will be different,” said Obrenski. “We will be masking; we will be socially distant. But we will be together and that’s something we haven’t had for a long time.”

Gordon added, “It’s been a year. And our teachers and our administrators are super excited to have their kids back.”

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