What will the next school year look like with a global pandemic? Will students be back in the buildings full time? Part of the time, with online learning for the other half? All online?
That still remains to be seen, but area school officials have been laying out Plans A and B (and probably C, D and E), and waiting for details from the state on what will be required to open the school buildings next year. The governor’s office ordered the closure of all of the state’s school buildings – public, private and charter – in mid-March to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Those details are expected to come from the state governor’s office soon; visit mytownneo.com for updates.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s office on Monday tweeted: "We continue to work on our plans to help local schools safely reopen, as well as plans to keep Ohioans healthy and safe at work and in their daily lives while the coronavirus remains with us. We’re in the phase of learning to live with #COVID19. We hope to announce more soon."
DeWine had a press conference on Monday and announced that his administration is extending the existing health orders through this week while the next set of plans are finalized.
One thing all administrators interviewed agree on is this: If parents do not feel comfortable sending their children back into the school buildings when the new school year starts, alternative plans will be in place for them. It’s a move that could prevent students from abandoning their districts for online charter schools.
Twinsburg City Schools
Twinsburg Superintendent Kathryn Powers said that the order to close the buildings expires June 30.
"It is anticipated that Gov. DeWine will provide guidance regarding the reopening of school districts prior to the expiration of this order," Powers said. "As you might imagine, we anxiously await this guidance document as we remain intent upon doing all that we can to support safe and healthy learning and work environments for our students and for our staff members."
Powers said that State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria has advised district superintendents "plan for the worst, hope for the best, and be prepared to pivot on a dime."
"To that end, we have been working through multiple scenarios as related to the reopening of the school district," Powers said.
"District administrators have measured every classroom and meeting space in all five of our school buildings to determine the capacity for each room," Powers said. "This exercise was more than a mere calculation based upon the rooms? dimensions as we had to consider the placement of the teachers? materials and instructional spaces, locations of doors, room configurations such as pillars, and the placement of technology. Further, we have been working with one of our local business partners, Mr. Todd Courtney of Crown Composites Tooling, and his associates, to engineer plexiglass shields which may be needed as we return to school. Perhaps the most exciting of all has been the recent approval by the Twinsburg Board of Education to provide a Chromebook to every student in grades PreK-12 in the coming school year. By providing this 1:1 environment, our teachers and students will be able to integrate the use of technology in classroom instruction in a consistent and equitable manner."
Powers said that the district will work to be flexible to the district’s families’ needs.
"I am hopeful that the majority of our students will be back on our school campuses," Powers said. "However, please know that we will provide virtual learning opportunities for students whose parents desire for their child or children to continue to learn remotely during this ongoing pandemic. It is our intention to be as flexible as possible and as responsive as possible to our families? needs.
"To that end, following the anticipated release next week of the guidance document from Gov. DeWine, and after we finalize our plan for the reopening of our school district, I will send another survey to our parents. The next survey will define the configuration of our school district’s grade bands as well as the school schedule for each grade band. Parents will be asked to declare their intentions with regard to their child or children?s learning assignment? for the 2020-21 school year."
In the meantime, the Summit County Public Health Department authorized several summer programs and activities for the district, including:
• Kindergarten Screening and Registration, which is July 31st and August 3 through 7 by appointment. Hours are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; check the district website for updates;
• Initial evaluations and reevaluations for students with disabilities;
• Early entrance evaluations;
• Tiger Skills Camp, July 20 through Aug. 7; and
• Extended school year services; July 20 through Aug. 7.
Phase 1 of Twinsburg High School fall sports conditioning began on June 15, and Phase 2 was scheduled to start June 29, Powers said.
Unfortunately, the district also canceled senior prom for this year due to concerns about the pandemic, Powers said. The high school’s prom, originally scheduled for May 29, has been rescheduled for two alternate dates June 12 or July 10 at Signature of Solon. The school board approved reimbursing the 2020 graduating class its prom fees at its June 24 meeting.
Hudson City Schools
School district spokesperson Sheryl Sheatzley said the district is working on alternate plans for parents who do not want to send their children back into the school buildings when the new school year starts.
"We will provide our plan for return to school soon," Sheatzley said. "We want to give our parents as much time as possible to make the best decisions for their child or children. It is our understanding that guidelines will be provided by the state early next week, and we are surveying our parents again in early July."
The district did an earlier survey, Sheatzley said, "to get feedback about remote learning so we could make adjustments for online learning according to their feedback."
In a June 15 video message, Hudson Superintendent Phil Herman said there were several questions the district needs resolved to finalize plans for the new school year.
"On June 2, Gov. Mike DeWine said that he intends to open schools in the fall to students across the state of Ohio," Herman said. "He said the goal is to have kids back in the classroom, so the state is working on a broad outline of health guidelines for schools to follow when they reopen."
Some concerns that local superintendents are facing include how many students can be in a classroom, what space restrictions will be, how many can be on a bus, will students be required to wear a mask, Herman said.
"In the meantime we've established some guiding principles to help our work as we are preparing for the school year," Herman said. "Those guiding principles are keep the student experience at the center. We've always tried to do that from the very beginning of this pandemic outbreak. We need to understand what does it mean, what is it like for our students to experience those solutions that we are creating for them? We want to keep their experience at the center for our planning. We want to have our students on-site as much as possible, but we want to have them on-site in a safe and environment as possible."
In the coming year, the district will focus on instruction that is both consistent and nimble, Herman said. This could include in-person, remote or a combination of the two.
The district also is focusing on the social-emotional needs, Herman said.
"We are developing plans for traditional in-person delivery and developing plans for remote learning platforms, and methods that match the content and pace of traditional delivery," Herman said. "Some of you might be thinking ‘So does that mean we have a choice?’ Well we might, and we are planning for that very distinct possibility. As we plan for remote and we are planning for traditional in-person, we also know that provides the most flexibility should circumstances change throughout the year. If we're planning for both and we're not able to go back, or the virus numbers increase or partway through the year schools are required to close again, then we have that work done. We are ready to transition from one to the other at the same time. We know that some families might not be ready to come back and so we're exploring what are those remote options that we might be able to provide."
Other concerns that need ironed out include what personal protective equipment districts will need, protocols for staff and student arrival, entrances and exits, and how to handle visitors, Herman said.
Nordonia Hills Schools
Nordonia Hills Superintendent said that the district will have an online option for parents wishing to keep their child or children home due to concerns about the pandemic.
"We will have a registration form that we will release at the same time we release the plans for whatever return school looks like," Clark said. "I expect this will be the end of July or early August. Parents who opt for the remote learning will have to commit to a semester at a time. We are offering remote learning to prevent these parents from leaving us for an online charter school, which would cost the district more than $6,000 per student."
Families opting to keep their children home "should expect us to accommodate you for the full school year," Clark said.
Clark added that the district will follow the guidelines from the health departments and DeWine’s office.
"This may mean that we have partial or full closures throughout the year, and that students may attend to school on a part-time basis," he said.
Schooling options will fall along a spectrum of possibilities, Clark said.
"At one end, all students remain home," Clark said. "At the other end, all students return to school. We think that neither of those scenarios are likely. Which brings us to scenario three, which is some sort of hybrid of students coming to scool on a part-time basis depending on how many kids are allowed to be in a classroom at one time. This could be kids coming to school one or two days a week, with teachers providing online learning for the remaining kids. In that scenario, I expect the main instruction will be online, and teachers will provide remediation for the kids when they are here in person."
Clark stressed these scenarios are hypothetical. "It is sort of what we are preparing for, but as of this moment we are in the dark about what the actual rules may be."
The district is in the process of gauging its options for remote learning, Clark said.
"We will not know what the remote learning plan will look like until we have a sense of how many families opt for this," Clark said. "We have surveyed parents. We are finding that many parents want their kids to return to school, and many parents are not comfortable sending their kids back to school."
The reasons parents did not wish to send their children to the school buildings in the new school year varied, Clark said.
"Those who are not comfortable sending their kids back have given many different reasons," he said. "Some will not be comfortable until there is a vaccine or cure. Some will not be comfortable if students are required to wear masks. Some will not be comfortable until they are convinced our cleaning and social distancing procedures are adequate."
The district, meanwhile, approved an alternative school calendar for the 2020-21 school year, Clark said.
The school board approved this backup calendar at its May 18 meeting, which will have the school year start Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day, and would end May 28, the Friday before Memorial Day.
Under the original calendar, school would resume Aug. 20, and the 2020-21 school year would end May 27.
Clark said the alternate calendar would reduce the number of student days, but that the days teachers would work would remain the same.
April Helms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org