Will Cleveland Metro Schools be the last district in the state to reopen? Is online learning working? Does anyone even care?

In just over a month, Cleveland Metro School kids will pass a concerning milestone: a year since the schools shut down. A year of learning 100% online. Will Cleveland schools be the last in the state to reopen? Is online learning working? Does anyone even care?


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In just over a month, Cleveland Metro School kids will pass a concerning milestone: a year since the schools shut down. A year of learning 100% online.

It began the second week of March 2020. Parents like me have been dutifully logging on four days a week since then. Every semester there is a survey — the district holds out the promise that maybe schools will open (at least hybrid) again. We fill it out only to have our hopes dashed.

The latest survey went out last week. The results, I’m told, aren’t final. But CMSD CEO Eric Gordon has already announced — not formally, but through local news interviews — that the district will not meet the March 1 deadline imposed by Gov. Mike Dewine for vaccine access.

Slide from parent survey CMSD.jpg

Mike DeWine said late last month that nearly every district had agreed to the March 1 deadline. Columbus Public School students returned to school two days a week last week.

The Centers for Disease Control announced late last month that there was low evidence of corona spread in schools if the proper precautions are taken. CBS reported Dr. Joseph Allen, the director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, called school closures “a national emergency,” adding that “schools are not the source or not contributing in meaningful ways to community spread.”

Meanwhile, Gordon meanwhile told Channel 5 he wants to wait until after the second round of vaccinations happens — plus two weeks — putting reopening into late March or early April. Cleveland, it seems, may be the strictest in the state around health concerns and school closures. Even students with disabilities who get one-on-one tutoring have been fully remote the entire year.

Meanwhile, there has been scant reporting about how this great experiment in online learning in a city with a deep digital divide has been going. Cleveland.com isn’t even covering education anymore.

When former Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O’Donnell looked at it for the new site the74million.org in December — he reported 5,000-8,000 students were just MIA. Not showing up for online classes at all. For comparison, that’s more than all the students enrolled in the Lakewood school district – entirely unaccounted for in terms of attendance– even at the low-end estimate.

The Ohio Department of Education recently released a report showing that major urban districts across the state have seen a 4.3% decline in enrollment on average between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. According to ODE data, Cleveland schools have lost 1,913 student from this academic year to last.

As we approach the 1-year milestone, there hasn’t been a whole lot else to go by.

When surveyed earlier this year, 60% of CMSD parents said they preferred full time or part time in-person instruction to online learning. A plurality said they were “extremely concerned” about their children’s academic progress and emotional state. Thirteen percent said they were not able to access the materials they needed to do their schoolwork, and almost 30% said they were not able to access it at least “frequently.”

When I try to bring up my concern about this topic online, I get accused of not supporting teachers. But I love my son’s teacher. I wouldn’t have stuck with the district through an extremely difficult year which required me to take significant time away from work unpaid, if I didn’t support teachers’ right to unionize. A lot of my friends who have the resources to switch schools saw the writing on the wall months ago and jumped ship.

To me the problem isn’t really the union advocating for their interests. That’s their job. But in Cleveland, the students and parents don’t seem to have political power to advocate for theirs very effectively.

How will the students be caught up? There doesn’t seem to be any plan for that or expectation that they will. Cleveland’s mayor, Frank Jackson, has barely uttered a word about the situation all year. Nor have any other prominent civic leaders of note — at least that I have seen.

I really think this is an existential moment for the district.

What will the district be like when kids return? Will the final vaccines plus a two-week waiting period even make it before the end of the calendar year? When they finally return, how many more will have enrolled elsewhere — at the Catholic schools that have operated more or less normally this whole time?

I wonder this kind of thing as I log in week after week with growing impatience and despair. As the timeline keeps slipping back I keep waiting to hear some kind of pushback or outcry. Instead what I hear is an increasingly loud silence from the people whose voices might bring a sense of urgency to this situation.

Angie Schmitt is a writer and mom of a kindergartner who lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland.

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