Dear Mr. Papouras,
Thank you and the Euclid Board of Education for the presentation on this fall’s school reopening. I appreciate the thought and care that went into shifting the entire educational dynamic at short notice. As a parent in the district, I have some concerns that go beyond the 49-character maximum allowed in the survey. My concerns are explained below.
Besides the community surveys, which are likely affected by selection bias toward families with internet access and technology skills to answer an online survey, it is not apparent that families were invited to participate in the planning process for reopening the schools. Families without internet or devices are less likely to participate in online surveys, so additional methods for obtaining family feedback are needed. This is an important conversation to which the district must invite family participation in a variety of ways.
I am particularly concerned about the potential family impact of shutting down a school for two weeks if one child in that school is diagnosed with COVID-19. Families need to understand the district’s plan for shifting the learning environment during these two-week closures. If multiple students test positive over the course of the school year, in-person schooling could become untenable. For example, if there is a positive COVID-19 diagnosis for two children in the same family who attend two different schools, shutting down both those schools will affect hundreds of families at once. Closures due to COVID-19 exposure may recur in schools or affect multiple schools during this pandemic.
If students are adequately separated, personal protective equipment is provided, and hand washing is built into the school day, it is difficult to understand why an entire school would need to be shut down. For example, if a student whose class is on the first floor of a building tests positive but has remained in his/her own classroom each day, it would not seem that children in classes on the upper floor of that school, or even the class next door, would be at risk unless the school ventilation systems are a concern for transmission, which is what this closure strategy suggests. Families want to know the full range of risk factors presented by the in-school environment; if school ventilation is currently a risk factor, families want to know when it will be remediated.
Potentially recurrent, significant disruptions to family schedules are likely to have an impact on job loss in our community, which is largely composed of essential workers who often lack benefits like paid time off and sick time. Workers without such benefits are also more likely to send symptomatic children to school, endangering other students and educators. Monitoring body temperatures does not account for the current understanding that people shed the virus two days before they become symptomatic, and it does not address asymptomatic transmission at all. Families need more information about how (and how quickly) a potential COVID-19 exposure will be communicated and what resources are available in the community for testing, both now and throughout the school year.
I am greatly concerned that services for diverse learners were not part of yesterday’s presentation. While most families now have at least a template of what the school year might look like for their children, those of us whose children have special education needs are left wondering about how those needs will be met. A plan that comes to families weeks from now represents weeks of delay in our planning processes, which is not equitable for diverse learners. After experiencing the absence of services last spring, parents of diverse learners are very concerned about the district’s plans and ability to resume compliance with IEP and 504 plans and help our children prepare for a safe and successful school year, no matter which learning path their families choose. Families need the district to communicate its plans for diverse learners quickly, as these most vulnerable students and their families need more, rather than less, time to prepare for the school year and understand how legally mandated IEP/504 supports will be provided. More specifically, families of children whose education plans include educational aides, therapists and other services need to know how these services will be delivered in the two formats (hybrid and virtual) presented.
I commend the district for seeking information from reliable sources to formulate the plan for fall. However, I am particularly concerned that the guidance being followed is incomplete in that the CDC, AAP and governor do not include metrics for evaluating community risk of COVID-19 in their guidance. In communities like ours that are largely African American, COVID-19 is having devastating effects on public health in terms of transmission, hospitalization, severe presentations of the disease, and death. Even if the schools do not see large numbers of students diagnosed with the virus, they will likely facilitate community spread in a community where the severe effects of COVID-19 are more likely to happen. As the district works to ensure equitable outcomes, the health risks of families and the community are necessary factors to include in the plans for schooling. The impact of losing teachers, students, and family members to COVID-19 would absolutely devastate the learning environment for Euclid students. Our district cannot afford to be ambivalent to the impact of community spread on vulnerable families. Families need to know the district is consulting with infectious disease experts who articulate race and ethnicity as risk factors in mitigating community spreadwhen considering reopening in-person learning.
Because of the district’s history of high suspension rates, particularly for diverse learners, I am concerned that student noncompliance with the mask/face shield policy will unwittingly increase suspension rates. Suspensions are highly disruptive to family work schedules and caregiving arrangements. Families need the district to articulate an explicit plan for how masks will be regulated in a way that does not increase suspension rates. Families want to know that the mask mandate will not exacerbate suspension rates, especially for boys of color and students with disabilities.
As a former teacher, I am afraid and concerned for the safety of educators. I am a hospital board member and a member of multiple national hospital safety committees, and I understand how complex infection control can be, even in healthcare settings that have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Without appropriate PPE for teachers (of the variety and quality used in hospitals) and adequate training on infection control, teachers are at risk. The protection of teachers is essential to ensure continuity of education for students. Families want to know teachers and students will be well-protected.
Finally, families have been given the October 16th date as a target for remaining enrolled in the Virtual Learning Academy but have no information on what will happen with the academy after that date. Is this date flexible, based on community spread of COVID-19 and other factors, or will the online-only learning option no longer be available to students after October? Based on the science about COVID-19, the pandemic is unlikely to be over by that time, and families need to understand what education in Euclid will look like beyond the first grading period. Families also want to know how long virtual learning will remain an option.
Including family voices during the reopening planning process can illuminate the broader implications of the district’s plans in a way that more effectively considers the experiences of students and families. Inviting family participation in this work could also help to build engagement and trust in the district. Families have a direct stake in education and expect opportunities to be involved in important decision-making processes like this one.
Thank you in advance for your answers and your consideration of these important matters.
Nikki (Charisse) Montgomery, M.A., M.Ed., GPAC