Stow-Munroe Falls High School students have more choices for attending school

The Stow-Munroe Falls High School Bulldog Marching Band began practices for the new school year during the week of Aug. 3. Band director Greg Newman said there are 253 band members, with 230 expected to take the field.

STOW — Students will choose between online or in-person classes with the high school students online with the district teachers.

Superintendent Tom Bratten and the district staff revealed changes to the school plan at Monday’s school board meeting.

Bratten said recommendations and guidelines for reopening from the Summit County Public Health Department were given to schools earlier that day and many were upset by the process which he said was “unprofessional.”

“We have tried to do as good a job as possible to keep the students and staff safe as we move forward,” Bratten said. “Today’s recommendations have thrown us for another loop to stay compliant with recommendations.”

Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said in a conference announcing the new guidelines Monday that in the past 14 days, the county has seen 117 positive cases per 100,000 people.

“We have seen multiple outbreaks with coaching, attending practices, dance, cheerleading,” Skoda said. “We are also, unfortunately, facing a similar situation we had with adults, which is the limited availability of testing.”

Skoda said that the lowest risk of spread would be for schools to meet remotely.

“At Summit County Public Health, we understand the important need for students to be in the classroom,” she said. “However, these are unprecedented times.”

She added there is still a high level of community spread of COVID-19 in Summit County.

Skoda said that if students do gather, the health department will “strongly encourage” masking, and she said schools should follow “aggressive cleaning, and keep 6 feet social distancing as much as possible.”

The district will open in a hybrid-learning environment, the Maroon Learning Plan, in an orange or red status, Bratten said. Yellow status allows students in school every day; orange and red are hybrid learning, and purple is remote learning for all students. The options are based on the risk level.

The hybrid option will allow students to be assessed and build teacher and student relationships, he said.

The Gold Learning Plan allows students to learn remotely.

AS of Aug. 3, district officials said 78%, or just under 4,200 students, had chosen the Maroon plan and 22%, or just under 1,200 students, were opting for the Gold plan. These numbers were expected to change some after all the deadlines are met.

The schools will enforce 6-foot social distancing instead of 3- to 4-foot with a mask. Masks will be required unless there is a medical reason and a form will be available.

Students will be socially 6 feet apart within the building and sit in assigned seating in the classroom and at lunch. The recess schedule will minimize the number of students outside at one time.

During Gov. Mike DeWine’s Tuesday conference students were warned to avoid 15 minutes of contact less than 6 feet apart and listed the order of importance to reduce the spread as 1. masks; 2. distancing; 3. handwashing; 4. surface cleaning; and 5. ventilation or outdoors.

Parents are asked to help by keeping kids home when sick. Summit County Public Health will notify and trace any student that tests positive for COVID-19. They will determine when a student can return to school.

The biggest change will be in the high school, Principal Dr. Jeffrey Hartmann said. The high school will not use APEX for online learning but will have the district’s teacher and courses offered instead.

Both Gold (online) and Maroon (in-person) students will be rostered together in the same class. The gold students must keep up with the maroon kids in the classroom, Hartmann said.

Also, instead of 10 42-minute classes, students will have five 88-minute classes with odd classes on Monday and even classes on Tuesday [for Group A], Hartmann said. This will allow less movement and less cleaning between classes since students will be at the same desk longer. The end of the day for the high school will be at 2:15 and allows an additional half-hour at the end of day for staff to plan with gold students.

Schedules were sent out Aug. 11, and students were being allowed to change from maroon to gold or gold to maroon since APEX is no longer a factor. Families could adjust their choice until Aug. 13 at 11:59 p.m. because staffing will be finalized after that.

“We are providing time and support for teachers to work with students no matter what plan,” Hartmann said.

School board president Jason Whitacre said the SCPH plan rollout was unprofessional.

There was no new data and it could have been released earlier instead of close to school opening, Whitacre said. The schools used resources to develop plans, had them approved, then a third party changed the plans.

“They embarrassed local school districts,” Whitacre said. “The data in our district is unchanged since our plan was approved. They put school districts and boards on the hook.”

Whitacre said he would like to see seniors provided opportunities to make their senior year as special as possible and accommodate them, especially for fine arts and special activities.

Board member Lisa Johnson-Bowers said a small minority of school districts are all remote and a majority were going back in a hybrid plan.

“I’m proud of the administrative team for not giving up,” Johnson-Bowers said. “They put in hundreds of hours of work on this plan to get sucker-punched by the health department. You have decades of experience and you care. The high school has come up with a better solution and wouldn’t give up.”

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at Reporter April Helms contributed to this story.

The percussion unit of the Stow-Munroe Falls High School Bulldog Marching Band practices a routine.