District prioritizes athletics over other programs

The school district is prioritizing student athletics over other, safer extracurriculars and, more importantly, over providing special-education services to students with disabilities. This isn’t about being anti-athletics, I am not; they serve an important role in the development and mental health of children, but they have their proper place, which is not at the front of the reopening line. 

When asked about this, Superintendent Kirby and the school board members have expressed they are following the guidelines, which is false. The CDC guidelines published in May indicate that playing sports against other local teams is a level 4 risk (5 being the highest). The Cuyahoga County Board of Health is recommending discontinuing athletics during virtual learning. Adding spectators, even just families, increases that unnecessary risk of furthering community spread. It is bad policy from a public health standpoint, and it is bad policy in terms of priorities.

Kirby indicated that [the district] didn’t have a plan to provide in-person services because [the district] thought it would open in person for all; however, during all board meetings over the summer, [board members and administrators] reiterated multiple times that there would be a contingency plan if the district had to be remote again. Clearly, maintaining special-education services was not part of that plan.  

Special-education services for district students was mentioned in one e-mail in April, when they switched to tier 3 learning. Then, nothing, until a poorly worded e-mail on Sept. 12 stated that only children with “low-incidence disabilities who have intensive needs” may be able to start receiving services later in the month.

The district doesn't get to pick and choose which children receive appropriate access to the services it is legally obligated to provide. Legal precedent, out of the U.S. District Court in New York, indicates that services should be in-person whenever safe to do so. If a coach can meet with an entire football team safely, my child can meet one-on-one with his physical therapist. 

I’m angry, I’m disappointed, I’m frustrated. I feel the district is ignoring special-education needs and instead falling for the popularity of student athletics. I recognize, especially right now, athletics can be very helpful for students. But they should not be the priority. 

District families deserve better. [Those who] raised concerns should have received a proper acknowledgement and response, not excuses and dismissal. [The district had] months to plan, and yet we have nothing but a “we are working on it.” That isn’t good enough, and I for one am done waiting. I will surely be keeping this in mind when filling out my ballot. 

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith is a Cleveland Heights resident and parent of two young children. 

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 10:14 AM, 10.01.2020