Stow City Schools Superintendent Bratton weighs in on how k-12 schools are handling COVID-19

Tom Bratten is the
Superintendent of the
Stow-Munroe Falls City
School District.
Kristen Prough is the Assistant Superintendent of the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District.

Students may have had a chance to relax but Superintendent of the Stow Munroe City School District, Tom Bratton, Assistant Superintendent Kristen Prough, along with most of the districts teaching staff did not get much of a break this summer. 

They were too busy restructuring entire schools and curriculums to prepare for this upcoming school year taking place in the midst of a global pandemic. Throughout this Q&A Bratton and Prough discuss the ways they have been navigating their way through these uncertain times. 

How has the transition towards a partially and fully remote school year gone so far? 

Bratton: We certainly started a lot differently this year and backed our start-up two weeks because we felt like, not only had the kids not been together but neither had the teachers and we wanted to reacclimate them not only to the school but to each other. That was different but I think very successful because they got to spend time reacclimating and doing a lot of professional development because whether kids are fully online or hybrid there is a lot of online education going on and every one of our teachers is involved in it whether it is a teacher that is doing it full time or has a hybrid class. We needed to try to make sure that their confidence level was good because it’s a different world for them. It’s very strange as a superintendent walking through the buildings to see hallways not cramped, walking into classrooms and seeing classrooms, not on top of each other. It took some getting used to but I’ll tell you what, last week was their first full week… and it’s been a really fantastic start and I couldn’t ask for more from our people than what they’ve given us because they’re going through an awful lot and it’s extremely stressful. 

What are your plans to intensify the cleaning and disinfecting process in schools?

Bratton: If you walked into our building you’d actually see in between classes custodians wiping down the doors. Any time the kids are out of the classroom, there is a custodian shuttling in there disinfecting the room before they come back in. There are lots of bathroom breaks for our kids to wash hands and things like that. 

Prough: Custodial maintenance has developed schedules to go through high touch surface areas so we have that on a routine basis. We were also able to purchase some of those ionizers which have to do with droplet viscosity. When you spray it on the front of something it actually wraps around the surface and then the droplets have enough viscosity that they sit on the surface and it’s used to clean the entire room. Part of the reason for our hybrid set up is because Monday, Tuesday we have a group of students and then Tuesday night and Wednesday night we spray down the entire building, and then we have a new group of kids come in on Thursday, Friday, and then we clean again before the group comes in on Monday. 

Parents of students were offered the choice to attend class in-person, were teachers given the same choice? 

Prough: We do have some staff that is not able to come in because of health or other reasons so some of the staff had to teach remotely. About 22 percent of our students chose to be online so from there we did have to assign some staff to teach remotely. Depending on how it worked out with numbers depended on how we staffed that. One thing that we felt was really important that we did and I’m actually very glad that we did because I have seen other districts struggling is we did not contract with a company to do our online learning services. We’ve seen other districts that did choose to do that and it is not working out well for them. 

The district is offering food and technology pick up services. 

Prough: This was one of those things that we talked about early on, how do we ensure that kids who need to eat have access to food? We have students that’s need access to free and reduced lunch that are remote only so we got some pickup services going for them. We also have students that are in the building two days a week and this ensures that they have food for the other three days a week. 

Bratton: There was also a grant that we applied for and received wireless hotspots for students who qualified. It is not just for anybody that wants one, you have to qualify but it’s not terrible to qualify for and it’s a great program that doesn’t cost us anything. We received about 300 of them for kids and families that need it. We really wanted to make sure that nobody was without and there is no cost for the hotspot or the service through this grant. 

How are CDC guidelines being enforced on buses?

Prough: The district asked really early on about busing because we were all concerned because if you put 6 feet in-between kids on a bus you’re going to have like four students on a bus and how are we going to get anybody to school? While we don’t have 6 feet between our students, we do have assigned seats and load the bus from the back to the front. Two students max per seat is what we are allowed to do and the masks are required.

What is the protocol if a student or faculty member were experience symptoms of COVID-19?   

Prough: We have pretty specific guidelines that we have received from Summit County Public Health. If you were to become sick at school we have isolation areas that we’ve built in all of our clinics for students and for staff, we would just send them home as long as their safe and able to drive. They contact their primary health care physician who then determines if they need testing. If we’re notified that we have a positive result, the first phone call they need to make is to Summit County Public Health because they essentially deem who that person was in contact with and who may or may not need to be quarantined. 

How have you been actively working towards supporting the mental health of your students during this crisis? 

Prough: We addressed social and emotional learning for all of our students over the summer when we worked on our restart plans. A big focus on Wednesdays when we don’t have any students in the building is to really focus on the social and emotional learning of our students. One thing we’re instituting this year is a survey that is addressing not only social-emotional wellness but also looks at school climate and 19 different factors so that is something we’re starting to get some good data and look at some specific areas and make some programming decisions as needed. The focus on the first week or two of school wasn’t to start doing your math instruction on the first day of school but to get to know your kids, let them get to know each other, talk about their experiences, and value the fact that everyone struggled in some way. Mr. Bratton has brought that focus on the social-emotional learning of our students when he came to the district so it’s pretty strong here and something that we really try to focus on. 

What are your plans for the spring? 

Bratton: We don’t know what we’re doing two weeks from now. I am not trying to be funny or dramatic that is the honest truth. We can get off the phone with you this morning and 10 minutes from now get a new communication directive or order from the governor or Summit County Public Health telling us that everything we just told you was a lie, it changes that quickly. We’ve only been in school for two weeks and its changed twice already in the two weeks we’ve been here. To answer anything about this spring, we want it done as much as everybody else but we don’t have any crystal balls either. We’re trying to make it one week at a time, one day at a time.