Falls school administrators, staff members discuss protocols for return to all-in classes

Social distancing, cleaning procedures, air purifying systems addressed

Phil Keren
Akron Beacon Journal
Cuyahoga Falls High School will have its prom on May 8 in the high school gymnasium and its commencement ceremony on May  25 at Canal Park. Both events will follow COVID-19 health protocols. This photo at the high school was taken in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — The school district administration and staff members are ironing out safety protocols before students return to all-in classes next month.

Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols sent a message to families on Feb. 26 stating K-12 students will be returning to in-person instruction five days a week on Tuesday, April 6.

Presently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all grades have been on a hybrid schedule since Jan. 19. Students who selected the remote option have continued with online instruction.

Nichols said his staff on Tuesday met with members of the Cuyahoga Falls Education Association to discuss a variety of issues in connection with the planned return to all-in classes.

"The conversation was collegial and collaborative," stated Nichols. "We discussed cleaning protocols, instructional methodology such as Zoom, lunch schedules, ventilation, and distancing."

Melody Carlisle, president of the Cuyahoga Falls Education Association, said she and her fellow members were "encouraged" by the conversation and look forward to more discussions with Nichols and the administrative team. 

How social distancing will be handled was a major discussion point.

"The district has promised to attempt to keep 3 feet between students as much as possible," said Carlisle. "However, in certain areas this won’t be able to be achieved."

On that point, Carlisle noted the administrators for the K-5 buildings are working on setting up additional lunch periods so students can spread out in the cafeteria for their meal rather than eat in their classrooms.

She added there was a discussion about changing cleaning protocols once all students returned to the buildings.

"We have also requested cleaning materials that can be wiped off immediately after spraying instead of needing 10 minutes [of] wait time," stated Carlisle. "Teachers will not be able to spread out students enough for the wait time." 

The installation of a new air purifying system was discussed during Tuesday's meeting and the board of education on March 3 approved a contract to install the system at the K-5 buildings. 

"They are going to try to have the work done over spring break but that was not certain," said Carlisle, who observed the air purifying system is "especially needed in interior rooms without windows."

She noted bids are being accepted for the installation of these systems in the 6-12 buildings, and those cost figures will soon be presented to the board of education.

Carlisle added "no timeline was given" on when the air cleaning systems would be put in the middle and high school buildings.

There was also a discussion about how synchronous learning would be handled.

"[Synchronous learning] will be reserved for students in quarantine only," said Carlisle. "We are hopeful the situations where synchronized learning is required will be few and far between."

She noted the CFEA also requested that the teachers, administration and quarantined students work together on a "case-by-case" basis to establish a plan to keep students engaged with their classes while they are quarantined.

Nichols added the district administration was meeting with the food service, building and grounds, and transportation departments on Wednesday and would engage with those departments again on March 15.

"With the layers of mitigation put into place such as vaccination, bi-polar air ionization, masking, and distancing, we believe we are providing the safest environment possible for our students and staff," said Nichols.

He noted that discussions with CFEA will continue "to pursue safety at every level."

District staff members were scheduled to receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, March 12.

Looking ahead to 2021-22 school year

The district recently asked families to fill out a survey to indicate whether they preferred online or in-person classes for the 2021-22 school year. Nichols emphasized that these responses are "preliminary and not commitments at this time." 

He added the district received 1,128 responses from elementary school families with 87% expressing a preference for in-person classes and 13% favoring the virtual academy.

The district received 839 responses from middle and high school families with 79% expressing a desire for in-person classes and 21% favoring all-remote classes.

The superintendent said a survey asking families for their thoughts on early release days in the 2021-22 school year will likely be distributed on Friday, March 12, and would have a due date of March 19.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@thebeaconjournal.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.