CUYAHOGA FALLS – While the Cuyahoga Falls City Schools will go with their previously outlined plan for the next school year – kindergarten through fifth grade in the buildings five days a week, and middle and high school students in-person two days and online three days – the district administration released further details for the new school year.

One difference, discussed during the July 15 school board meeting, will utilize the state’s recently announced color system to determine if students would be in the school buildings or taking classes online. The governor’s office recently created a color-coded system for the state’s 88 counties that indicate the amount of risk of exposure to COVID-19. The colors, from least to most severe, are yellow, orange, red and purple.

Superintendent Todd Nichols said that the in-person instruction will depend on what status Summit County was under. For kindergarten through fifth grades, instruction will take place in the school buildings five days a week if Summit County is at Level 1, or yellow, or Level 2, or orange. If Summit County is at Level 3, the current level of the county as of July 15, the younger students would go to the blended learning format, or two days in person and three days online.

At Level 4, all of the district’s students, from kindergarten through 12th grade, would be online, Nichols said. As of July 15, no Ohio county has been labeled Level 4, or purple.

Instruction five days a week is possible due to the American Academy of Pediatrics relaxing the social distancing guidelines from 6 feet between desks to 3 feet between desks.

"Six foot in our classrooms meant we could only put eight or nine students in our classroom," Nichols said. "[Last week] the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that students are safer at school, especially the younger students. [Gov. Mike] DeWine used that as basis for the state plan. He said he want kids back in school."

DeWine, on July 2, released the criteria from the state on reopening the schools.

"With 3 feet, we can go to 18 to 22 students" for the kindergarten through fifth grade students, Nichols said.  Class sizes would vary; for example, in Roberts Middle School, classes could accommodate 17 students and a teacher, Nichols said. He added that at 3 feet, there would be little difference in desk spacing.

Kindergarten through fifth grade would be in the school buildings the entire school day five days a week, when the county is at Level 1 or 2, Nichols said. School would be conducted the entire school day on a rotating basis during Level 3; in general, students with a last name beginning with A-K would be in school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and L-Z would attend on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with virtual learning on the other days and times. 

Students in grades six and older will be in the school buildings until 12:30 p.m. and finish those days with online instruction on a rotating basis during Levels 1, 2, and 3; students whose last names begin with A-K would attend on Mondays and Tuesdays, and L-Z on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with online instruction or online live instruction on the other days and times. Instruction will be online during the times the students are not in the school buildings.

Families will be scheduled to attend on the same days. There will be a process to change the scheduled days due to childcare or similar issues.

Students in kindergarten through second grade will get two Chromebooks – one for home use and one for use at the school, Nichols said, so the youngest students were not transporting the laptops to and from school.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade will get breakfasts and lunches in school at Levels 1 and 2, Nichols said.

"We will try to do as much as possible in cafeteria," Nichols said. He added the district was still ironing out meal plans if the county is at Levels 3 or 4 for the kindergarten through fifth graders, and Level 4 for the sixth grade and older.

For the middle and high school students, they would be provided a "grab and go lunch" at 12:30 p.m. that they would take with them at that time to go home, or to an area not at the school buildings for wifi, to complete their school day, Nichols said.

However, there is one drawback to having school five days a week for kindergarten through fifth grade: the district will most likely have to turn down open enrollment students, including students who have already been enrolled with the Cuyahoga Falls schools. Up to 200 students can be impacted, Nichols said, and this could mean a loss of $1.2 million to $1.3 million for the district.

Nichols said he hoped the families of these students will opt for the district’s online schooling, the Black Tiger Remote Learning Academy. The online academy will be an option for any family who does not wish their children to go into the school buildings.

Nichols said that families wishing to use the online only option would be asked to commit to the Academy for a semester. That length of time is needed to plan for staffing, he added.

Busing, Nichols said, "will be provided at same levels as provided in past," and there will be two students allowed per seat.

"All of this has been vetted with the health department," Nichols said. He added that all students on the bus will have to wear a mask. Buses will have hand sanitizing stations and will carry a few spare masks just in case. All buses will be disinfected at the end of each day with an electrostatic sprayer, Nichols said.

All staff will be required to wear face masks, Nichols said. Children in kindergarten through second grade will be strongly encouraged to wear masks, especially when social distancing can’t be maintained. Children in third grade and older will be expected to wear facial covering at Levels 1 and 2, and will be required at level 3 if they can’t maintain social distancing. Mask breaks will be given throughout the day, he added.

"We strongly encourage parents to have their students start wearing face masks now to get them used to it," Nichols said. "This is our new world and we need to keep our students and staff healthy and safe."

The district has purchased 216 additional hand sanitizer units for the schools, and will be buying more large bottles for the classrooms. Teachers will go over safety procedures such as hand washing, and all touched surfaces will be sanitized at the end of each day.

Board president Karen Schofield asked if the district has looked at the possibility of renting space to accommodate the open enrollment students, or offer more in-person schooling. Nichols replied the cost to do so would surpass the revenue that open enrollment would bring in. If the district would, say, utilize Newberry, more teachers and a school administrator would be needed.

Nichols said that the district received 868 responses from families to a recent survey sent out. This represents about a quarter of the students. Of the respondents, 60 percent said want back in school, 9 percent said would not send their children back, and 31 percent are undecided.

Other feedback, Nichols said, is the need for more consistency with online learning, in-person instruction for students with special needs, and more advanced notice, for families that need time to make arrangements for child care.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@recordpub.com