PEPPER PIKE, Ohio – For Orange Schools Superintendent Lynn Campbell, zeroes across the board on the district’s COVID-19 dashboard were a welcome sight.
At the Orange Board of Education meeting Monday (March 29), Campbell said for the first time since the inception of the dashboard in September, the district has no active student or staff cases of COVID-19, as well as zero students or staff members in quarantine.
The dashboard was last updated Friday (March 26).
“That’s a very good sign,” Campbell said. “But I can’t say I’m that surprised, (after) looking at our local information from (Cuyahoga) County, particularly our three main ZIP codes.”
Campbell noted in the three primary ZIP codes that the district draws from – 44022, 44122 and 44124 – only 62 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the past week. That’s just a 1% increase in new cases, he said.
Those ZIP codes also include Beachwood, Lyndhurst and Chagrin Falls, Campbell said.
In that same seven-day period, the three ZIP codes had 71.5 cases per 100,000 residents, he added.
“What’s significant about that is 100 (per 100,000 residents) is the threshold to be considered high incidence,” he said. “So to be below 100 per 100,000 (residents) is very significant.”
Campbell believes these figures justify the Orange Schools being in person five days a week, with students 3 feet apart in all school buildings – even by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s strict standards.
“So these numbers are going in the right direction, and we’re hopeful they’ll continue going that way, as well,” he said.
The district returned to a full-day, in-person learning model for all grade levels March 1. A fully remote model also has been available to all students since the school year began in August.
Campbell said now that Ohio residents age 16 and over are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, he has informed the Cuyahoga County Board of Health that the district would be interested in being a future vaccination site.
He said about 400 district employees are now fully vaccinated.
“Some other good news is we have access to about 250 (COVID-19) test kits,” he said. “It’s a one-time distribution to about 10 percent of your student and staff population.”
The Cuyahoga County Board of Health will advise the district on how best to use the test kits, Campbell said. But if they’re not used by the end of the school year, they must be returned to the Board of Health, he added.
Will remote learning continue?
Looking ahead, Campbell said Ohio law does not currently provide an option for remote learning for the 2021-22 school year.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Ohio Legislature provided a virtual learning option for this school year, but that opportunity has not been extended to Ohio school districts yet for next year.
“So if we had to start school tomorrow, everyone would have to be all in,” Campbell said. “But we’ve been told at the superintendents’ meeting to anticipate legislation to extend similar to what’s currently available to school districts.”
Campbell noted that even if the legislation were not extended, the district does have options to educate students in alternate models if it so chooses, “to allow a pathway for kids to remain in some remote kind of setting.”
“That’s a conversation to have,” he said. “Is simultaneous teaching, like we’re doing currently in grades 6-12, the way to go, vs. having a true built-for-online option for kids?
“We could still support these students in an online environment, but it would be a true online school – an online program with online teachers and online support.”
Nonetheless, Campbell said he anticipates the number of families seeking remote instruction for their children next year to be small, “if the numbers continue the way we’re going.”
He noted Moreland Elementary School is currently about 80% in person, and Orange High School is at about 65% in person.
“I’m sure we can expect much higher numbers in the fall,” he said. “We’ll do a survey of our parents soon.”
Campbell said it’s probably too early to ask parents now what their preferences are for their children in the fall.
“If we ask now, we don’t know what June is going to look like,” he said. “But just to get a feel, we could do that very soon, then in June put out a more in-depth questionnaire going into the summer.
“I think our parents would appreciate being asked later, as well, as school gets closer.”
But it’s not too early for the district to start thinking about what it wants to offer next school year in terms of a remote option, Campbell said.
“It’s a big topic to talk about – what’s best for our remote kids who don’t want to come in because of COVID and what’s best for our kids who are here, and what makes the most sense for a teaching and learning experience from our teachers?” he said.
Campbell said he believes the district has done “a wonderful job” in responding to the pandemic, “whether we were fully remote, half-day hybrid or all day.”
“We’ve always said all along, ideally our brick-and-mortar model – when we get all our kids back, and especially as the barriers come down over time – that’s what we want to get back to,” he said. “But thinking of what online model would make the most sense, to get the most out of the experience for everybody, will be a good conversation to have.”
Board member Deborah Kamat said, “I think it’s important to continue a remote option because I think we want to be about choices for parents.”
“If we wanted to set up our own virtual academy through Orange, that’s one pathway,” Campbell said. “Currently, we can contract a kid’s education out on a case-by-case basis. It’s not new; it’s just rare.
“Credit flexibility is another (option). That could be expanded much larger than it is now.”
Board member Beth Wilson-Fish expressed concern about sending a survey to parents too soon because the results may be “taken out of context.”
“I as a parent don’t know yet what I would be doing in the upcoming fall,” she said. “I think we still have so many months to get through.
“Things are looking good, but you never know. I think we’ve learned that throughout this pandemic.”
The board’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. April 12.