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Akron Public Schools Students Will Return To In-Person Learning March 8

Students will return in two groups based on age and level of instruction needed. [Tim Dubravetz / ideastream]
The Akron Public Schools logo on the railing of a staircase.

Students at Akron Public Schools will begin a return to in-person learning a week ahead of schedule, but still after the state’s March 1 deadline.

The school board approved the decision Monday. The original reopening plan had students back in the classroom March 22.

The change comes after a district survey found nearly 70 percent of families want to return to in-person instruction. For those families, students will return to school in two groups: students with learning disabilities and kindergarten through second grade students on March 8 and the rest of the district one week later, on March 15.

Students and staff will be required to wear masks and maintain a distance of three-to-six feet from each other, said Superintendent David James. Buildings will be sanitized, he said, and additional measures are in place to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

“I’m confident,” James said. “With everything our staff has put together, I think we’ll be okay in terms of a safety protocol.”

For the 30 percent of families who don’t want their kids to return to the school buildings, a remote option is still available, James said.

Elementary schools are seeing the highest demand for in-person instruction, he said, but the district is seeing even split among 11th and 12th graders. Teachers will be divided between in-person and remote lessons based on the needs of each school, James said.

Some students have handled remote learning well, he said, but there is a need for in-person instruction in the community.

“For many of our students, there’s a learning loss,” James said. “We need to come up with a plan by April 1 for how we’re going to deal with that learning loss over the summer.”

Akron schools faced criticism from Gov. Mike DeWine for not pushing to return on March 1 – the state’s condition for providing school staff with COVID-19 vaccines. But no two districts have the same needs, James said, and administrators have done what they can to meet DeWine’s timeline.

“I didn’t know what other districts were doing,” James said. “I just said, ‘We can’t be the only district in Ohio that doesn’t meet that March 1 date. We need to do whatever we can to move it up.’”

All staff who signed up to be vaccinated will have received both doses by the time students return, James said, and the shots were rolled out to coordinate with teachers’ schedules, depending on if they would be working with the March 8 or March 15 student groups.

The district has worked closely with the teachers’ union on the return plan, said Akron Education Association President Patricia Shipe.

“We’ve always wanted to get back in, but we wanted to return students and faculty back to the building safely, in a safe manner,” Shipe said. “We believe that has been accomplished.”

Some staff were previously concerned the return to in-person learning would result in students having to change teachers in the middle of a grading period. But Shipe said the current return plan allows classes to keep the same instructor through the end of the period.