Dear Black Tiger families:
As the parent of a recent Cuyahoga Falls graduate, I understand the variety of emotions parents may be feeling as we work together to reopen our schools in the safest way possible for students and staff. As your superintendent, it saddens me that situations like these exist.
Earlier this week, Summit County Public Health (SCPH) outlined its school reopening recommendations for Summit County school districts. They noted that the COVID-19 virus continues to spread throughout our community, putting students, teachers, staff and our community at risk. While children are less likely to experience adverse outcomes like death, the likelihood of infection has increased.
SCPH strongly recommended that Summit County K-12 schools begin the 2020-2021 academic year online (not in-person) to decrease the risk of disease transmission and spread. Some of the factors they cited to support this recommendation include:
- From 7/1 to 7/31, the 7-day average case count increased from 23.9 to 48.9 cases/per day.
- 93% of cases are from community spread, and not congregate living settings (like nursing homes).
- In the past 14 days (7/26 to 8/8) new cases per capita doubled, indicating high COVID-19 community transmission.
- From 7/7 to 8/8, the seven-day average case rate per 100,000 is remaining steady or increasing and is in the 6-9 cases per 100,000 range. This indicates wide community spread.
- There have been 271 children and teens aged of 19 or less that have been reported as COVID-19 cases as of August 10th.
- SCPH has investigated multiple situations and outbreaks with reported COVID-19 cases related to coaching and/or attending practices for sports and activities (e.g. dance, cheerleading etc.).
- Testing availability is limited for children under the age of 18.
- COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and COVID-19 patients on ventilator support are steady or rising.
- Summit County has been in the red or orange categories in the Public Health Advisory System throughout July. In both the red and orange categories, the recommendation is to decrease interactions outside of the household.
SCPH does not recommend that students return to school unless the following indicators change:
- Sustained declining cases in Summit County, ideally for 4-6 weeks;
- a move to a yellow-risk status as defined by the Ohio Public Health Advisory System;
- increased testing capacity for youth;
- a decrease in hospitalizations, which is a marker for community spread.
Yesterday, our Return to School 2020 Task Force met and discussed SCPH’s recommendations. As a result, we have determined that based on the recommendations of Summit County Public Health, all K-12 students in Option #1 of our “Return to School 2020” plan will open the school year online, and not in-person, through Friday, September 25th.
Students in Option #2 (Black Tiger Remote Learning Academy) will begin the school year as originally planned, and not be affected.
If pandemic conditions improve in September, the district will prepare for a “soft start” with face-to-face instruction beginning the week of September 28th. The purpose of this is to provide appropriate time for staff to introduce COVID-19 procedures and expectations with students to ensure a safe return. Information will be provided to parents during the week prior to the soft start. Our goal is to move back into our original “Return to School 2020” plan, or a blended version, for the remainder of the year.
To accommodate these changes, we will need to push back the start of the school year (for Option #1 and Option #2) to Monday, August 31. This will give our staff, who report on August 17, adequate time to adjust their plans to meet the new requirements. During the week of August 24th, they will engage in online orientation, kindergarten screening and building both student and staff relationships.
Please note that while students will attend school online, our staff will still report daily to their respective schools to teach their classes. They will also participate in professional development activities and prepare both live and recorded instruction for all students.
Regarding athletics and extracurricular activities, SCPH recommended that moderate to high contact sports be postponed until October 1. We support this recommendation as well.
We will continue to be in discussions with Summit County Public Health to determine when our district can resume in-person learning. As always, our highest priority will be directed to the health and safety of our students, staff and community. I will keep you updated via our Return to School 2020 web page as new information becomes available.
In conclusion, while am I am aware that this decision may not be embraced by everyone, I feel it is important to align with the recommendations of our health experts. I cannot bring our students and staff back to the classroom when Summit County Public Health’s preferred recommendation is that we start online.
It’s my hope that we can all work together to inspire our children to embrace these changes, and create a meaningful experience for the upcoming 2020 – 21 school year.
Thank you in advance for your support and understanding. We will get through this together.
Be well, stay safe, and as always Go Black Tigers!
Dr. T. M. Nichols
Cuyahoga Falls City Schools