Brecksville-Broadview Heights schools consider switch to in-person learning five days a week

BRECKSVILLE, Ohio – Brecksville-Broadview Heights schools Superintendent Joelle Magyar wants to change the district’s plan to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and resume in-person learning five days a week for K-12 pupils starting Oct. 26.

Magyar said the hybrid education model, in which pupils attend in-person classes twice a week and learn remotely on computers the other three days, is working for some pupils but others are struggling, especially younger children.

“It’s not a developmentally appropriate model for many of our students,” Magyar told the school board Wednesday (Sept. 23).

The board for the most part wasn’t receptive to Magyar’s recommendation. Board member Mark Dosen said the district had committed to hybrid learning so that families can plan ahead without having to worry about a sudden change to all-remote or five-day, in-person models.

Ultimately, the board decided to seek input from families and survey them on whether they want to stick with the hybrid model or switch to in-person five days a week. The survey has already been emailed to families.

“Please, let’s take a deep breath,” board President Kathleen Mack said. “Let’s listen. Let’s get the facts. And let’s look at data. And then let us all come together to make good decisions for our children.”

The board will host a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 30) to educate families about remote and online learning, which would remain an option regardless of whether the district abandons the hybrid model.

It’s not certain whether the board will discuss at the town hall meeting Magyar’s proposal to resume in-person, five-day-a-week education for pupils not opting for all-remote learning.

Developmental concerns

The school board approved the hybrid learning model in August. Pupils are attending in-person classes twice a week and studying remotely three days a week until Thanksgiving break, at which time all school buildings are scheduled to close and not reopen until Jan. 4. After Thanksgiving, all pupils will learn remotely five days a week until winter break in December.

On Sept. 23, Magyar recommended keeping the all-remote learning stretch between Thanksgiving and winter breaks in the plan. It would allow the district to deep-clean and disinfect buildings and cut down on flu spread during a time of year that most sickness-related absences are reported.

However, Magyar said the plan was always to bring children back to in-person classes five days a week at some point.

“It’s something that’s going to happen,” Magyar said. “We need to have our kids back in five days.”

Magyar said that after three weeks of school, “pockets” of hybrid learning are working well, but in other cases, parents have reported that their children are struggling. She said it’s difficult for K-4 pupils, and those with special needs, to have the self-discipline for remote work three days a week without a teacher to guide them.

“I’m really concerned about their mental health,” Magyar said. “I’m concerned about developing those foundational skills that our elementary students so desperately need, and they learn those foundational skills through repetition.”

Magyar said several Ohio school district, and some in Northeast Ohio, have reopened to in-person, five-day-a-week learning. These include districts in Aurora, Rocky River, Beachwood, Independence, Mayfield, Ravenna, Kirtland and Streetsboro.

Magar said Brecksville-Broadview Heights has 611 pupils who have chosen the all-remote, all-the-time option, which would remain available. Families not comfortable switching from hybrid to five-day in-person classes can transfer to the all-remote option.

Pandemic safety

Magyar said that so far, the district has experienced just one case of COVID-19, and the virus was contracted outside the district. No children have come to school with temperatures.

The district has provided plexiglass barriers for teachers to shield them from their pupils in the classroom, Magyar said. All pupils and staff wear face coverings at all times. Pupil desks are spaced 3 to 6 feet apart and in some cases plastic or plexiglass barriers are between desks.

Lunches are delivered to classrooms. Pupils walk one way only through hallways. Magyar said the district has bought another 1,700 plastic or plexiglass barriers so that all children will have one. The district will continue to deep-clean and disinfect buildings several times a week.

“We are confident that we can keep our kids safe and that we are protecting them above and beyond the levels even that the (Cuyahoga County Board of Health) is asking,” Magyar said.

But Dosen said once parents learned that the district was considering returning to five-day, in-person learning, board members received emails from them asking why. He said parents were hoping for consistency because they had made arrangement with their employers and/or childcare workers to watch their children three days a week as they studied remotely.

Board member Fred Pedersen said changes like the one Magyar was proposing are also difficult on children.

Board member Brittany Wigman agreed, adding that some families, after the board settled on the hybrid model, left the district in search of a school system offering in-person learning five days a week. She said it wouldn’t be fair to those families if the district changed its plan now.

“I don’t know if I’m necessarily comfortable changing the narrative right now,” Wigman said.

Wigman said she’d rather work out the kinks in the hybrid model before committing to five-day, in-person education.

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