‘Pandemic pods’ growing in popularity as many schools switch to online learning

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — For those students who will not be in traditional classrooms this fall, a growing trend is to gather groups together in private homes where they collectively study from their school district’s online curriculum.

The trend is called “pandemic pods” or “micro-schools.”

Kids from four or five families gather at a host family’s house under the supervision of a teacher or tutor hired by the parents.

Heather Kessler will host a group of students in her home and works to organize other ‘pods’ at her home in the Granville, Ohio, area.

“For us we have real health concerns, so we need to keep it smaller so 5-6, maybe 7. We are more comfortable with 5-6 just so we can minimize the risk as much as we can,” Kessler told Fox 8.

Most of the pods involve children who are kindergarten age through third or fourth grade, although Kessler says there is an interest in creating sessions with kids through middle school.

In her ‘pod,’ Kessler says the children are kept six feet apart. Kids are dropped off outside the homes, masks are worn, and she observes all of the recommendations from the local health department. But families can determine their own protocols.

She also coordinates everything through the local school district.

“I’ve had unanimous enthusiasm when I talk to people about this,” said Kessler.

Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda says the ‘pods’ do not appear to violate any of the state’s current orders regarding COVID-19 as long as they cannot be defined as “daycare.”

“Right now, as the order stands you can have people to your house, you can invite, right now I don’t know if that’s going to stay or not, but you can invite as many as you want over,” said Skoda.

But Skoda says it does increase the risk over learning from the student’s own home.

“You are bringing more than just family members, bringing in actual people who aren’t in your bubble in your bubble,” said Skoda.

Dr. Claudia Hoyen of University Hospitals in Cleveland applauds the ingenuity of the parents but advises that those who are hosting need to do so in a responsible way.

“If people are going to be doing these things, I think they still need to be mindful that this is not necessarily your family and you are not in a closed system so that I still think you want to ensure that people are masking, trying to social distance, using good hand hygiene and if anyone is sick not to come,” said Hoyen.

Kessler says that while some organizers are willing to set up multiple ‘pods’ in the same home she does not do that.

The ‘pods’ also do not need to be five days a week.

Because of the reduced number of children as compared with the numbers inside school buildings, Kessler believes the risk is much less.

But Hoyen says the risk is still there.

“Just because you are in a small group doesn’t mean COVID can’t come into your group and since within families, parents are going to be at work some other siblings might be at school or in daycare you still want to make sure your group is protecting yourself, because it isn’t a group you are living with all the time; you are still at higher risk,” said Hoyen.

But the doctor does not want to discourage parents who want to send their children to traditional schools if those schools are doing everything they are supposed to be doing.

“The fewer number of people you are exposed to the risk is less but I don’t want people to think that the schools would be unsafe if they are following protocols and those types of things,” said Hoyen.

“I’m very excited about this because there are teachers that want to do this and there are families that want to do this,” said Kessler.

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