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Shuffling Teachers, Masked Students Mark Cleveland's Return To School

A classroom at Campus International School is set up with six feet between desks before students returned for hybrid learning in March. [Jacqueline Hawley]
A classroom at Campus International School is set up with six feet between desks before students returned for hybrid learning in March.

After a year of remote learning, many students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District are back in the classroom as part of a hybrid learning model.

CMSD started phasing in students the week of March 8 and now has groups of students rotating two days (Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday) in school buildings and three days at home.

Cleveland Teachers Union President Shari Obrenski said the most difficult part of returning to the classroom has been all the “shuffling” teachers have had to do, because she said, they had no idea how many students would return to the brick and mortar.

“Let's say, a classroom has 30 kids on the rolls and 10 of them show up and the other 20 are staying home, or and then you have to figure out who's teaching them remotely, who's teaching them in person. The same person is not doing both jobs,” said Obrenski, who added that teaching teams have divied up work. “So we've had to shuffle teachers around... There are almost as many people as there are as many different situations as you can find.”

This situation was brought on, in part, because of the “timeline issue,” according to Obrenski. Staff and students returned to school buildings before the deadline for parents to give notice of whether their children would return to in-person classes. Then, some parents changed their minds even after the deadline lapsed.

“Parents weren't sure whether schools were going to be safe to send their kids back or not. They [CMSD] don't want to lose kids, period. So if a family has become uncomfortable, they'll transition them to remote,” said Obrenski. “If a family has been remote and they're saying, ‘It seems like things are going well, I think I want my kids to come in person,’ then the district will move them in person. So we have some of that going on.”

Despite the teacher shuffling, Obrenski said reuniting teachers and students for in-person instruction has been an absolute positive.

“The actual in-person instruction, the kids and the teachers, they're enjoying being back together. That part has been really good. And teachers are happy to see their kids in person and kids are happy to see their teachers in person,” said Obrenski. “All of that has worked out. We figured out how to deal with lunches and all these other things. We've been working together through this whole period. We're continuing to work together to figure it out.”

Students have been following the COVID-related safety protocols, including wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines, according to Obrenski, who said that has helped limit the spread of the coronavirus when there are positive COVID cases. Anyone, whether student or staff member, who is COVID-19 positive is asked to report it, stay home and recover, according to Obrenski.

“So we are getting more positive cases. I'm not hearing that we're getting a ton of spread. We have had some classrooms that have been quarantined. We haven't had any buildings that have been closed yet,” Obrenski said. “Because their [the students'] mask wearing has been solid, their social distancing has been solid and all of the those mitigation strategies, they followed them. And as a result, they haven't needed to have as many people quarantined because most people are doing a really good job of following the mitigation strategies.” 

The American Federation of Teachers has worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rockefeller Foundation to support coronavirus testing at CMSD.

“So we have a pilot program that we'll be starting very soon for testing and hopefully by the fall we'll have a full testing program in place, which is for schools, students and staff,” Obrenski said excitedly.

As for the remainder of the school year, Obrenski called the next month the home stretch, but also added the kids are coming to school “essentially to test” over the next few weeks. Obrenski had no reservations sharing her perspective on the administering of Ohio State Tests (OST).

“We don't, in general, like the state testing,” said Obrenski. “We need to be able to perform diagnostic assessments of where our kids are so that we are able to then figure out a plan for, again, addressing the weakness areas and the areas where they're good, that those are areas we don't need to spend as much time on and move forward.” 

As for the next academic year, Obrenski is hoping the district will be fully in-person, for the benefit of the students, and because “hybrid, logistically, is just so difficult.”

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”