Lowellville School Board details its reasoning for starting remotely

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Risks, high costs and lack of substitute and online teachers were some of the reasons for deciding to hold classes remote

Lowellville School marquee

Credit: WKBN

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio (WKBN) – In a detailed response posted Saturday on its website, the Lowellville Board of Education and Administration refuted a report from WKBN that 25% of its staff was looking to get medical documentation not to teach in the classroom.

However, in the same response, the Board stated that one of the reasons it decided to go with remote learning only for the first nine weeks was because of “the lack of availability and exorbitant cost to hire substitute and/or online teachers.”

The response also stated, “There were many staff members concerned about their health and safety and fall into the category of high risk.”

WKBN reported the medical documentation issue after Springfield Superintendent Tom Yazvac said in a public meeting Thursday that Lowellville Superintendent Dr. Eugene Thomas told Yazvac: “Twenty-five percent of his staff was looking to get medical documentation to not come back to the classroom.”

But the response from the Lowellville School Board stated, “A recent press story reported that 25% of staff was not returning is inaccurate, that was the percentage of students that selected ‘online’ instruction rather than returning face-to-face.”

The response, headlined “A Letter to the Community,” began with the statement that “Creating the 2020-21 Reopening Plan (Guidelines) was an arduous task.”

It described how the process began during the week of June 22 when parents and staff were surveyed. “A resounding 217 responses were submitted,” the letter stated.

According to the letter, a first draft of a reopening plan was developed by “a Community Transition Task Force Committee composed of 12 individuals on July 7th and July 14th.”

On July 16, the “staff” of the Lowellville School reviewed the plan and “suggested various changes,” after which the draft plan was “revised to reflect the input received from the District staff.”

On July 27, the Lowellville Board of Education held a public meeting both in person and on Zoom, which, according to the letter, included “an extensive question and answer session by the community.”

Immediately after the July 27 meeting, the Lowellville Board says it voted to adopt a plan that included both in-person and remote learning options for students, the details of which were posted on the Lowellville School website.

Then, on August 10, the Lowellville School Board met again in a special session and voted to eliminate the in-person option and go with remote learning only.

Three days after the August 10 meeting, in an interview with WKBN, Chris and Gina Crilley, the parents of two children in the Lowellville School, criticized the board for a “lack of transparency” on deciding to start classes remotely.

The Crilleys claimed, “A board meeting took place [on August 10] that the community did not know was occurring,” and said they planned to consult with an attorney.

The Crilleys also criticized the board for eliminating the in-person option.

“Our kids need to be in school,” Chris said.

The day following the WKBN interview, the lawyer for the Lowellville Board of Education, Thomas Holmes of Solon, sent the Crilleys a cease and desist letter telling them to stop “making any further false and/or defamatory statements about the District and/or its employees.”

The letter from Attorney Holmes threatened “a civil lawsuit” against the Crilleys if they continued speaking out.

In the “letter to the community,” the Board called the decision to start remotely “undoubtedly the second best option.” It did not state what the number one option would have been.

Along with risks, high costs and lack of substitute and online teachers, other reasons for deciding to hold classes remote only were the high cost of doing in-person and remote learning at the same time, the possibility of starting and then closing school, and the safety of everyone “during the pandemic.”

The letter also stated that “the Superintendent emphasized multiple times that the plan was a working document and likely to change.”

Concerning the Crilleys allegation that the community had no input in the decision to go remote only, Lowellville Superintendent Dr. Eugene Thomas told WKBN in a separate statement, “Contrary to the claims made by Mr. and Mrs. Crilley, the District utilized an extensive collaborative process to obtain input from various stakeholders and develop [a plan].”

The letter to the community also stated, “As a District we have to make difficult decisions that might not be popular but are definitely in the best interest of everyone.”

The full document of the “letter to the community” can be read here.

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