CMSD First Day of School: What To Expect For COVID-Safe School Year
It’s the first day of school for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District - the largest school district in Northeast Ohio.
Students are heading back to the classroom Monday, many of them for the first time since being in remote learning last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The return to school is happening at the same time as a concerning surge of COVID cases and hospitalizations in the area, driven by the highly transmissible delta variant.
To prevent the spread of the virus during the school day, students and staff will be required to wear masks, practice social distancing in classrooms and at lunch, and use hand sanitizing stations throughout the school buildings, said Carol Pennington, interim director of nursing and health services at CMSD.
“We’re absolutely concerned about that,” Pennington said. “We kind of control what we can while the students are in our buildings. With the distancing and the masking and the whole nine yards, we didn’t want to take any chances.”
All students and staff will be required to wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status for the first five weeks of the year, she said. Students with certain medical issues may be exempt.
After those five weeks, school officials will review whether to extend the policy – which Pennington expects will happen due to the current surge.
Other schools in the Cleveland area have opted to make masks optional, but Pennington said the district’s policy is in line with guidance from both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.
“It’s such a simple thing to do, actually … to just kind of help prevent the spread of anything,” she said.
Other safety measures at CMSD include increased cleaning and ventilation measures in all of the school buildings, Pennington added.
The district also recently hired more than 20 new school nurses to help enforce COVID protocols in each building, she said.
“Kids haven’t seen each other in a long time, so to tell them to maintain three feet distance, or whatever, may be a little bit difficult for them,” Pennington said. “So, [the nurses] will also be monitoring and making sure students know how to properly wear masks, and that they have the masks available.”
The nurses will also be in charge of making sure each building is equipped with sufficient personal protective equipment, soap and hand sanitizer, she said.
When students arrive at school, they’ll get their temperature checked, and staff members and school nurses will briefly talk to the students to get a sense of how they are feeling that day, she said.
If a student shows symptoms of COVID during the school day, they will go to a wellness clinic in the building – separate from the main nurse’s clinic - where they will be referred for COVID testing if necessary, and their family will be contacted.
School nurses will also spend time educating eligible students about the COVID-19 vaccine, Pennington said. Children aged 12 and over can receive the Pfizer COVID vaccine.
The district will host vaccination clinics in partnership with the Cleveland Health Department on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week, she said.
“We’ll be doing an East Side clinic and a West Side clinic for four hours a day, so we will be able to provide it for our students, as well as the community,” Pennington said. “We’re doing whatever we can to actually bring the vaccinations to the students instead of taking the students to the vaccines.”
More than 4,600 staff and faculty in the district are fully vaccinated, school officials said earlier this year. According to CMSD there are some 5,300 staff members and more than 37,000 students enrolled in the district.