Nordonia teacher’s union calls for remote learning in light of COVID-19

Request follows county health department recommendation

APRIL HELMS
Reporter
A group of school district superintendents met in the Stow City School District's central office in March to listen to Gov. Mike DeWine's press conference addressing the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Nordonia Hills Superintendent Joe Clark said county school districts now are split on whether to start the year remotely, or part-time in-school.

NORTHFIELD CENTER – Nordonia Hills City Schools should follow Summit County Public Health’s recommendation that the school year start virtually, according to an Aug. 14 statement released by the Nordonia Hills Educators’ Association.

On July 23, the school board unanimously agreed to start school based on the rating Summit County is at under the Ohio Public Health Advisory System. The color-coded system — from yellow, orange, red and purple — indicates the risk of exposure to COVID-19. In Code Yellow, Nordonia Hills students would return five days per week. In Code Purple, the most severe level, students would participate in remote instruction at home five days per week.

Summit County has been at Code Orange, which under Nordonia’s plan would mean students attend class in-person two days per week and online the other days for the start of the school year.

The Summit County Public Health on Aug. 10 recommended schools start the year with online-only instruction. The health district said a part-online, part in-person hybrid model of instruction is the second preferred option, with in-person learning five days a week being the last preferred option.

In a written statement released Aug. 14, the NHEA urged the district to go fully remote in light of the county recommendation.

“A recent survey of our membership shows a majority of our members believe we should follow Option 1 [remote learning] recommended by Summit County Public Health and continue with remote learning for the first nine weeks,” the letter stated.

“NHEA is concerned about the substantial risk of exposure for our members,” the letter continued. “While the model the district has set forth reduces class sizes and allows for distancing, NHEA still has concerns because our members are still exposed to all of the students in the district that have chosen the in-school option. NHEA has concerns because the Cuyahoga County Board of Health has also recommended beginning the school year remotely.”

The Aug. 14 letter added that NHEA is concerned “because there have been instances of COVID already in our school community and we have yet to begin in-person instruction.”

The NHEA expressed concerns that the protocol put in place by the district would not be sufficient to protect staff and students.

In the statement, the NHEA stated that it was “alarmed to learn that those schools that have reopened around the country have seen a surge in the spread of the virus among younger populations, with recent reports seeing 100,000 infections in two weeks within school-age populations.” The union is requesting that teachers teach from their classrooms, with students following the lessons remotely.

Superintendent Joe Clark said the district is moving ahead with the plan it had agreed to in July.

“I have great respect for all the wonderful work the teachers do for the students every day,” Clark said. “The NHEA’s job is to represent their members. I represent the teachers, students and the community. I would never ask the teachers to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I’m confident in the protocols put into place to make it safe for teachers to teach and students to learn.”

Clark added, in response to the letter that he wasn’t sure “this is what all of their members are feeling.”

The district offered an online-only option for students and their families, Clark said. Around 800 students — about 20% of the district’s students — are signed up for online only instruction for the first semester. Nearly 2,800 students have chosen in-person instruction.

Clark, who is president of the Akron Area School Superintendents’ Association, said that the districts in Summit County were “split down the middle” between either starting on a hybrid model or starting the school year remote only.

The first day of school for Nordonia Hills students is Sept. 8.

Nordonia Hills Board of Education President Tammy Strong previously said the school board will review its decision at the end of September and make any needed adjustments.

On Aug. 10, Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said COVID-19 cases in the county have been on the rise.

“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 six feet social distancing as much as possible.”

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