Akron Public Schools To Begin Fall Semester With Virtual Learning

A student reads a book at Akron's Betty Jane Community Learning Center
A student at Betty Jane Community Learning Center in the Akron Public School District in 2017. [Mark Urycki / ideastream file photo]

Updated: 4:49 p.m., Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Akron public school children will learn virtually from home for the first nine weeks of school, the district board of education voted Monday night.

Akron Superintendent David James told ideastream Tuesday that the board’s decision to go fully remote for the first grading period was made in part because the general public appears to be shirking social distancing guidelines.

Board members discussed community spread and the fact that parts of Summit County already have high infection rates. Additionally, James said they brought up anecdotal examples of people congregating in big groups then going home or to work.

“I can pretty much control things in terms of what happens in school, but my concern is what happens when our kids and our staff leave school and go home and out in the community,” James said. “What we didn't want to have happen is to open school, whether it was blended or a 100 percent in-person path, people show up to school and they may be asymptomatic and then cause a problem where we're spreading the infection more.”

In thinking about the potential of the virus spreading, James said he would rather have the whole district doing remote schooling than have to quarantine employees, a whole classroom, or an entire school building at some point.

Summit County is currently rated orange, or Level 2, on Ohio’s public health advisory system, which calls for the county to exercise a "high degree of caution.” The county was downgraded just one week ago after being in the red, or Level 3, since July 9.

Akron Public Schools spent the summer preparing safety guidelines for the possibility of students returning to school in the fall, including working on how to manage social distancing on buses, one-way hallways and restroom sanitation schedules. In one estimate, officials calculated the cost of providing masks for students and employees at approximately $2 million.

The district was prepared to move forward with one of three models- all in-person classes, teaching fully remote or a hybrid model of in-person classes and distance learning, James said.

Pat Shipe, president of the Akron Education Association, which represents teachers and other school employees, applauded the board’s distance learning decision, saying it is the right call in light of what the COVID-19 data is showing. Though the union had been hoping schools would be able to offer at least some in-person classes, she said.

“However, we also knew that the number one priority that we were looking at was keeping our students and staff and their families safe with the ever changing face of this virus. We had to be able to pivot at any time,” Shipe said.

James acknowledged the distance learning plan will come with its own obstacles and issues, and school staff is already actively working to address them. When it comes to students who might struggle learning virtually, the district is thinking of ways to help.

“I mean, there are a lot of things we're trying to put together,” said James, who said the district could “have some time in the evening for some independent and individual support for students and their families if they run into a problem.”

Akron schools have distributed 700,000 meals to students since they shut down buildings in the spring –and will continue to do so, as long as the “federal government and the USDA allow us the waiver that allowed us to give those grab-and-go meals,” he said.

Akron schools’ remote learning decision comes days after the Cleveland Metropolitan School District announced it will hold virtual classes for the first nine weeks of the fall semester, beginning Sept. 8.

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