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CEO Gordon: CMSD Students Will Learn Remotely For First 9 Weeks

CMSD CEO said individualized parent/teacher meetings to discuss the back-to-school plan will be held prior to the start of school.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District School Bus

Updated: 11:53 a.m., Friday, July 24, 2020

Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon announced Thursday that the district will be teaching students remotely for the first nine weeks of the 2020-2021 academic year.

CMSD contemplated a hybrid approach of remote and in-person learning, Gordon told ideastream Friday. But recent changes in health indicators made it clear remote learning is the safest option, he said, particularly as Cuyahoga County is still at Level 3, or red, according to the Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System.

“Red is ‘You’re at the top of the problem.’ So that really pushed me to say, ‘Okay, if we’re red and getting worse, why would I think it is safe to bring large numbers of people together?’” Gordon said.

CMSD parents and families also have expressed concerns about sending students back to school as case numbers and reports of mask violations increase, Gordon said. About two-thirds of families told the district they aren’t comfortable sending students back, he said, while just 14 percent were “really comfortable” with the possibility.

“Over the last week or so, the temperature’s just changed pretty dramatically, as I think it should,” Gordon said. “We have the capacity to focus on doing remote right, rather than trying to do both at the same time.”

As the pandemic continues and indicators change, Gordon said, CMSD will assess the best options for the future. Families are asked to think in “smaller periods of time,” he said, rather than expecting plans for the full school year.

“I think there’s a lot of people out there that are announcing plans for the year or for the semester with an assumption that they have enough information to get it right,” Gordon said. “We’ve never done this before. There is no education playbook for pandemics, and I think we have a responsibility to continue to assess, adapt and improve.”

Teachers will get two-and-a half weeks of training on guidelines and methodology, Gordon said. CMSD has worked with all nine of its labor unions, including the teachers’ union, to develop the plan, he said.

The current plan calls for both synchronous and asynchronous learning, Gordon said. Meaning, students will attend classes in a virtual meeting platform for formal instruction with a teacher and classmates for part of the day, but also will receive homework and projects to complete outside of those meetings. That asynchronous work may include group projects done virtually, online modules or videos.

“There will be chunks of time with breaks in between, time to get your lunch, time for a brain break. But it will be much more structured than [during] the emergency shutdown last spring,” Gordon said. “That was a shutdown with no notice, and our goal was to enrich and engage while we retool.”

Subjects covered during class meetings may shift as well, Gordon said. CMSD is considering ways to “go deeper” on a smaller number of subjects, he said, rather than taking a shallow approach to a variety of topics.

“We’re going to really try to use this as an opportunity to go deeply in fewer areas,” Gordon said. “The instruction should be every bit as rigorous. It will be delivered differently, but it will be just as rigorous.”

There also will be multiple hotlines available for families during the year, Gordon said, including CMSD-run tech support, a COVID-19 support line for concerns about the virus at home, and a social and emotional rapid response line. Individual schools also will continue operating their own lines to provide additional support, he said.

“We’re really thinking of this as a high-touch support in the early part,” Gordon said, “so that by the time learning really begins in earnest, we’ve really ensured that every family has the capacity to be successful.”

CMSD is contacting families to assess other needs, including childcare, meals and technology. Conversations are ongoing with more than 100 out-of-school care providers, such as libraries and other programs, about preparations for daytime programming during the school year for parents who need childcare.

The district distributed 16,000 devices to students and purchased 9,500 hotspots, which provide internet connections, before summer break. An additional 4,000 hotspots are being purchased Friday, Gordon said, and CMSD is working to acquire more devices.

Gordon originally made the announcement about the first nine weeks of virtual learning at a public forum discussing the impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations. The roundtable was hosted by University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, who asked Gordon about his plans for the district. 

At the time, Gordon did not say what CMSD would do beyond those first nine weeks but did say “individualized” parent/teacher meetings will be held prior to the start of school, as CMSD is aware parents are very concerned about how their children will cope with remote learning.

"I answered her truthfully," Gordon said in a message to families Thursday evening, "that based on a review of the current public health data, data from our parent and educator surveys, and after public discussion with our board of education, I would be announcing the district’s intention to begin the school year remotely for the first nine weeks."

He also apologized for unintentionally revealing the remote learning plan to the general public ahead of notifying CMSD families on Friday as promised.

"This error was completely mine," he said in the recording. "It has been my full intent to carefully and thoughtfully communicate this information and the important details related to it to our students, families, and educators before communicating to the larger public."

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