Stow-Munroe Falls delays five-day return until Jan. 11 or later

Krista S. Kano
Akron Beacon Journal

The Stow-Munroe Falls City School District has delayed returning to school five days a week until Jan. 11 at the earliest as COVID-19 cases increase in the region and among students and staff. 

"It is my feeling that while our intensions were good in creating a resolution with the goal of bringing a large part of the student body back to five days on Nov. 30, that this is not wise for our district at this particular time," Superintendent Tom Bratten announced Monday.

"The resolution of getting our students back in five days is absolutely justified, and we should keep working at that and that should be our goal," he said.

The board's Nov. 6 resolution gave Bratten the authority to transition from a hybrid schedule to a full in-person schedule as early as Nov. 30 for students in kindergarten through sixth grade and as early as Jan. 4 for students in grades seven through 12. 

The measure also instructed Bratten to consider several metrics, such as confirmed positive cases and quarantines of students and staff, including those in the Six District Educational Compact, as well as the availability of substitutes. 

"The numbers for all metrics mentioned here are not good and support our staying hybrid at best," Bratten said. 

According to Kristie Prough, director of special services, up until last week, the district would see positive cases pop up occasionally, "but everything has accelerated beginning in the middle of last week, especially at the high school."

As of Monday afternoon, there were 10 high school students who had tested positive, eight of whom are in the hybrid Maroon Plan. Students in the hybrid plan currently are in school two days a week and remote the other three. In most of those cases, no one was quarantined because the district was able to maintain 6 feet of distance. 

Had the high school been in-person five days a week, however, students would have only been socially distanced 3 feet, which would have prompted a quarantine for others. 

"We'd average four students per class because someone's sitting in front, behind and on either side, and also for lunch. That's 30 students per positive case that could be quarantined. Based on last week, we would have seen 240 quarantines if we were attending five days a week," Prough said. 

Even while maintaining 6 feet of distance, there are 62 students who have been quarantined due to school-related exposure, whether inside or outside the classroom and "that has grown exponentially over the last few days," Prough reported.

Additionally, three programs within the Six District Educational Compact are fully remote due to quarantines. 

"If we were in five days a week, we would have some buildings closed right now, potentially even fully virtual, as we're even close to being on that verge now due to large staff numbers and lack of substitutes. The only possible way to keep any of our students coming to school even two days a week is to stay hybrid and be able to keep our social distancing protocols until the second semester," Bratten said. 

Staff member quarantines are also on the rise, recently increasing from five one week to 21 the next. As a result, all 35 of the district's dedicated long-term subs are active.

"We're starting to struggle to provide coverage in all our buildings across the district," Prough said. 

The local communities are also seeing an uptick in cases, with Stow going from 5.7 average daily positives on Nov. 2 to 18.4 on Nov. 15. Of those new cases, 56 were in people younger than 20. Munroe Falls also saw an increase, going from 1 on Nov. 2 to 3.3 on Nov. 15. 

Given the latest data, the entire district will return for the second semester on Jan. 4 in a hybrid model. At that time, the district will reassess whether five days is reasonable starting on Jan. 11.

"If things have drastically improved, we'll have our new target date as Jan. 11. If not, we'll continue in hybrid and reassess on a weekly basis," Bratten said. 

Board members praised Bratten for his flexibility but lamented the end result of remaining in a hybrid model.

"It's incredibly frustrating knowing that the kids' best interest is to get them back in school, and the priority should be to get them back in school. Frankly, hopefully, all the adults in the community can get behind that and act like it," board president Jason Whitacre said. 

Board member Nancy Brown acknowledged that students may be struggling academically, but that they cannot expect the same educational results given the circumstances.

"It's a different type of educational year for all the kids. Academics can be made up. It's hard, and we're not doing this because we think this is fun and this is a fun social experiment. We're doing this because we have to," she said.  

"One of our goals is to produce lifelong learners. Well, let's give them a nice long life for that to happen."

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter: @KristaKanoABJ.