As the opening of the new school year draws closer, a group of parents rallied at noon today outside the headquarters of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland urging school officials to allow students to return to in-person learning this fall.
About 75 people – mainly parents and students -- gathered on the sidewalk outside Cathedral Square Plaza on East Ninth Street in downtown Cleveland. The group was respectful. They wore face masks and many carried signs with messages such as “Be not afraid – Open our schools in person 5 days a week,” “Keep our Catholic schools open,” “In-person instruction is essential,” “Jesus taught in person – so can we,” “Kids need school,” “We love our schools,” “Being in school is a matter of social justice” and “Catholic schools are the heart of the Church.”
Many wore T-shirts representing their schools and some of the students wore their plaid school uniforms. Spotted in the crowd were people in T-shirts from St. Brendan School (North Olmsted), St. Angela Merici School (Fairview Park), Saint Joseph Academy (Cleveland), Magnificat High School (Rocky River) and Saint Ignatius High School (Cleveland).
Pat Kennedy, president of the Magnificat High School Father’s Club, helped coordinate the local event. He is a St. Edward High School alumnus. Kennedy said his daughter is a junior at Magnificat and he has a son who graduated from St. Edward in 2018.
“Catholic education is very important to us,” he said.
The rally was organized by local parents from Ohio Catholic School Parents for Normal School, a group of parents with children in Ohio Catholic schools. According to the group’s Facebook page, they are “concerned about the upcoming school year and the restrictions being placed on the mental health and well-being as well as the education of our kids. Our goal at this point in time is to get kids back in school, five days a week.”
Frank O’Linn, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Cleveland, addressed the group to clarify the diocese’s position on the upcoming school year. He released a video message on July 29 and reiterated that information to the group. About 40,000 students attend Catholic schools in the diocese.
“We will be ready for any scenario,” O’Linn said. He told the group that each school is developing its own plan while considering the recommendations from health officials. The Cuyahoga County Board of Health developed a series of guidelines for schools to plan, prepare and respond to the coronavirus. The recommendations were released last week.
“We are faith-based and will respect the dignity of all,” O’Linn said. He noted that in the spring when schools were forced to close suddenly, the Catholic schools quickly pivoted to online learning. “Our teachers did an amazing job,” he said.
Since then, schools have been working to refine their curricula to include both online and in-person learning opportunities for students, O’Linn said.
“The Church has long held that parents are primary educators of their children, which is why Catholic schools are providing options for students, in partnership with parents and guardians. Our plan is to do what is best for our students,” O’Linn added.
All Catholic schools in the diocese have been communicating their plans to families, providing choices to return to campus in-person -- with protocols in place for protection -- as well as options for those who wish to continue learning remotely, he added.
O’Linn said each Catholic school is developing its own plan for resuming education in the fall, considering recommendations from state, county and local officials and health officials. Catholic school teachers and leaders are working together to ensure that they provide an environment that is as safe as possible and will provide a quality education for the students, he added.
On July 29, in the wake of a continuing growth of COVID-19 cases in Ohio, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health issued a recommendation that classes resume remotely in the fall “due to the elevated health risk posed to students, staff and family members.” The health department also recommended that extracurricular sports, including band, theater, choir and other activities be discontinued during the remote learning period.
O’Linn told the parents that school leaders “are carefully considering all recommendations. Our concern is providing a safe learning environment for our schools. We will do the best we can for our families.”
Since the schools in the diocese are spread across eight counties, the coronavirus situation may not be the same everywhere, which is why the schools are developing their own plans.
Kennedy said those attending the Cleveland rally connected through Facebook/social media. He said they started with about 100 members on Aug. 1 and the group has grown to more than 1,110 in just two days. He said a bigger rally is planned for Aug. 5 in Columbus by parents from around the state.
O’Linn said today’s event was helpful because it provided another opportunity for the diocese to share its recommendations for resuming school with parents. He said school officials will continue to monitor the situation as they prepare to reopen schools this month. A virtual meeting was set for this afternoon with Cuyahoga County Catholic school principals to continue discussing plans for reopening school, O’Linn added.