If there’s anything the last five months have taught parents, it’s that change comes swiftly and without much warning, leaving no other choice but to cope and adapt.
Just as local parents were preparing for a new school year with two learning options presented by the North Royalton City Schools, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health threw a wicked curveball July 30: the recommendation that schools begin the year remotely.
“This will most assuredly alter the reopening plans we communicated to you last week,” said North Royalton Superintendent Greg Gurka July 30 in a mass email. “As this new information was just released today, I appreciate your patience and understanding as we work in the coming days with our administration, staff and Board of Education to adjust our reopening plans to protect the safety of our students and staff. I will be in communication with you as we work through this process.”
Gurka also announced that all district activities and athletics are on hold until a final decision on the reopening plan is made. As of press time, Gurka had made no official announcement on updated, adjusted reopening plans.
Local schooling plans, released just days before the county’s recommendation, had given parents and caregivers two options to pick from for the upcoming academic year: Option 1, a traditional/blended hybrid model that followed the county risk level, or Option 2, a full-time remote/virtual model. Before the Cuyahoga County Board of Health’s announcement came July 30, many local parents had already decided that the virtual learning option was best. Still others were leaning toward traditional/hybrid schooling.
“I think the Cuyahoga County Board of Health waited way too long to make the call,” said Erin Schamp, the parent of two Royal Redeemer Lutheran School students, via Facebook. “So much blood, sweat and tears – and money – went into developing these school reopening plans over the summer. I feel bad for everyone involved.”
In a Facebook call out for comments and feedback regarding the swift change in back-to-school plans, numerous local parents voiced their dissatisfaction with the recommendation.
“A 7-year-old cannot remotely be educated,” commented parent William James. “If Walmart can stay open then the schools should be open.”
Parent Kristin Yarger, who has children at Royal View Elementary and Royal Redeemer Lutheran School, said youngsters need the social interaction that school provides.
“Kids need to go back to school. My daughter has been begging to go back to school,” Yarger commented on Facebook. “The district worked on the reopening plan for so long and I think it’s insane that the Board of Health would wait this long to make all their efforts a waste. Having the two options made everyone happier than being forced to homeschool. A lot of kids will miss out on a quality education and much needed socialization. We have been quarantined this whole time. Kids need social interaction with peers to grow properly. Teachers will already have a hard enough time trying to switch to distant-learning for half the week, let alone every day. It was a real struggle in the spring and it most likely won’t be any better for the fall. I think North Royalton should stick with its two-option reopening plan. If forced to homeschool, the parents who work will also suffer. I think this whole thing is a mess and I hope everyone can figure some way to cope with everything.”
Families with comprised health voiced their support of the all-remote recommendation, as did others who stated that safety was their main concern.
“I think school should start off with all remote learning with there being so many new cases out there today and us being at Level 3 Red,” said parent Laura Scebbi. “It’s a better choice. My daughter is starting fifth grade this year and we don’t want to take the chance of her going to school and bringing this virus back home to our family. Her dad is high risk due to him having asthma. Let it go all remote till at least through the end of the year and then see where we stand in cases and what level we are at come January. I know it’s going to be hard some of us parents, but we are strong, and we can do it.”
Many parents commented on how choice was abruptly taken out of the equation.
“I am all about choice,” said parent Jennifer Bates Porter. “No judgment on what an individual chooses is best for their family. My concern is about having the option for choice stolen from us.”
High School Parent Jennifer Jeff Petro also commented on choice.
“I have a senior and a freshman and I think you should have a choice,” she said via Facebook post. “This is not going away anytime soon, and we need to learn to adapt just like everything else in life. The impact of not going to school I feel will be far worse.”
Jaime Falasco, another parent of high schoolers, expressed her dissatisfaction.
“I prefer having a choice in this matter,” she said. “I have a 10th- and 12th-grader and both prefer to be in the classroom. If virtual learning is forced on them then I sure hope it’s more structured than what they had last school year. That was a joke – no learning, no structure, no grades or GPA. I expect a virtual model basically identical to a normal school schedule but done via Zoom. Otherwise, I want a refund on my school and city taxes. This is getting ridiculous. These kids need to return to school.”
Parents of children with special needs also shared their concerns with all-remote learning.
“As a parent of two neuro-typical middle schoolers and one special need elementary-age child, having the choice taken away from us presents so many problems,” said parent Heather Hasley Cimino. “My youngest is already repeating his grade after a spring and summer with no therapies and extended school year. I desperately hope that the school system takes our special needs kiddos into account when making these decisions.”
Parent Robin Parsons also commented.
“I feel that everyone had the option to keep their kids home if they didn’t feel it was safe for them to go back. I have two kids, one with special needs and one on an individual education program (IEP), who need to be in school,” Parsons said. “With two working parents, we do not have the time, nor the expertise, to teach our children the way they need to be taught. Nine-year-olds can’t type, so online learning is a very long and painful experience for all of us. I do not think this is what’s best for my children.”
In families with multiple kids, some were choosing different options depending on each of their child’s needs. Parent Betty Mercurio was firm on Option 1 for her incoming fifth grader and Option 2 for her seventh grader, who had a hemorrhagic stroke in November of 2017 and utilizes a walker. Mercurio had shared her thoughts on the options presented.
“We feel it is an individual decision based on kids’ needs,” she said before the county’s announcement. “We included the kids in the decision making, laying out pros and cons to each. With so much being out of their control right now, we try and let them have a say so when we can.”
The new school year will bring significant adjustments.
“We will drive to and from school to avoid needing the bus, and I plan to pack lunches and include a small sanitizer or wipes in the lunch box to remind him to clean his hands before eating,” Mercurio said before the county’s announcement. “We stocked up on cloth masks so we have a new one each day and then can wash too. I do not believe travel basketball is happening, but if so, we likely will not participate this fall. Since we are on (county level) red, Tony will be home three days and Vinny will do distance learning five days. We bought them desks for their rooms so they can meet with their class and teachers and get work done quietly. I am considering days where he does go to school to change in the laundry room right when he gets home and wash hands before coming into the rest of the house. My employer has been flexible, so I am still working from home which allows Vinny to do distance learning. His room and my office are upstairs together.”
Many of the parents interviewed for this article mentioned they were either stay-at-home moms or had a job that allowed them to work from home – a comfort not everyone has. Time will tell what sort of toll this school year takes on the parent who does not have the option to be home during the day assisting their child with lessons or has a job that keeps them tethered to a desk with no room to stop and assist their child with schooling.
“Juggling work and online schooling will be challenging,” said parent Leigh Liebenguth, before the county made its recommendation. “Even though I have the flexibility to work at home, I do have a lot of meetings, calls and urgent situations for my work. I won’t be 100 percent attentive to offer help with schoolwork or technology issues that come with chrome books.”
Parent Christina Kowalski said she will be drafting a daily schedule for her children as she did in the springtime after schools closed in March. Her children are 9 and 12 years old and entering fourth and seventh grades.
“We will have to adjust our work schedules and be sure that a parent is home to watch the kids and make sure they are doing their assignments,” she said. “The main parent will have to be able to completely work from home while assisting the kids. We are lucky to have jobs that allow for this and understand that many parents don’t have that luxury.”
To keep up-to-date on the district’s reopening plans, visit the North Royalton City School’s website at northroyaltonsd.org.

Contributing Writer