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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Many Local Catholic Schools Plan Mix Of In-Person, Online Classes This Fall

The school year is supposed to resume in just a few short weeks, but with the threat of a pandemic still looming large many families don’t know what to expect. 

Schools, meanwhile, are caught between the dire warnings of health officials and the pleading of parents who say they can no longer play teacher at home – including Northeast Ohio’s 108 Catholic schools.

Frank O’Linn, the superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, told ideastream that at this point, reopening plans are being left to the schools themselves. 

“Each school has its plan that it’s been working on in consultation with parents, with community members, with health experts and a range of professionals who are supporting them in the back-to-school plan,” O’Linn said. 

Nearly 40,000 students attend a Catholic school in the area. Many parents are being offered a choice to send kids back to school in person or continue learning from home. Some schools plan to welcome students back with a staggered re-opening, spending some days in the classroom and others at home. 

“All of our schools have made plans for remote education, so there’s an option for parents who choose to keep their children learning from home, and most of our schools have some component of in-person learning as well,” O’Linn said. 

According to O’Linn, enhanced safety precautions are in place for any schools planning to open the doors to students, including maintaining social distancing, requiring face coverings, frequent cleaning of surfaces and hand washing. 

While education is the primary concern, plans are also in place to resume sports, he said. Catholic schools’ elementary students belong to the Christian Youth Organization (CYO) league, while high school athletes are governed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

But even with plans in place, O'Linn said, there needs to be caution. 

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned under COVID-19, it’s that anything can change on short notice,” he said. “That’s why our Catholic schools have been preparing since the start of the summer to be ready for any scenario: to be able to be remote, to be able to be in-person, to be able to be some combination. And we are ready and will be ready to start the 2020 school year.” 

A handful of area Catholic schools contacted by ideastream Monday indicated their thinking may be shaped in part by the recommendation of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health late last week that schools switch to entirely remote learning to begin the school year and cancel all fall sports and extracurricular activities.

A number of large local public districts, including Cleveland, Akron and Parma, have decided to use only distance learning for the first nine weeks of the school year. 

Cuyahoga County school principals are expected to meet Monday night to discuss the recommendations, and local Catholic schools have also been invited to the meeting. 

Meanwhile, a group of roughly 100 parents and students held a rally outside the diocese headquarters M onday supporting plans to reopen schools for in-person instruction. 

Pat Kennedy, whose daughter will be a junior at Magnificat in Rocky River, spoke at the rally. He’s confident in the precautions the schools are taking to keep students and teachers safe, he later told ideastream.

“I’ve seen the effect that mobile learning and distancing has had on my daughter in the last four or five months. Kennedy said “[The] lack of social contact has hurt her mentally and emotionally. I think she needs the interaction with not only teachers but her fellow students.”

If schools aren’t allowed to reopen due to another statewide stay-at-home mandate, Kennedy said his family is ready to deal with it. But he, hopes, as do many parents, it won't be necessary.

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