TALLMADGE – The 2020-21 school year will look like no other school year students and staff have seen in the past.

The plan for the upcoming school year was revealed at the July 15 school board meeting and is available on the school website www.tallmadgeschools.org. 

A virtual Town Hall meeting on the reopening plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. on July 20 . Parents are encouraged to go to the district website and use the form for submitting questions on the reopening. District administrators will answer questions submitted via this form during the Town Hall meeting and questions and answers will then be posted on the district website. The Town Hall meeting can be viewed on the district’s YouTube channel, which can also be accessed from the district’s website.

The board of education will meet July 29 to review the proposed plan.

Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said the plan balances student safety and education.

"We are in unprecedented times as we look at this pandemic and where we’ve been in the nine weeks we were out [of school buildings] and the rapid changes," Ferguson said. "It’s time we now look at our reopening plan."

School levels, which indicate the danger of COVID-19, include Level 1 (the lowest) with students in person and in the building with safety protocols; Level 2 with some students in person and others online; and Level 3 (the highest risk) with all students distance learning.

Ferguson said his recommendation is for the district to reopen on Level 2.

That plan calls for kindergarten students to attend half a day while students in grades 1 through 5 would attend the full day every day. Students in grades 6-12 would be on a blue-gold schedule and would be face to face with teachers every other day or five out of 10 days in a two-week period. The blue-gold calendar is on the website.

In order to space students out more, students in fifth grade would be at the Tallmadge Middle School and eighth graders would be at the Tallmadge High School in their own wing.

Those students who choose to stay at home would attend Tallmadge Online Academy, Ferguson said. They would remain Tallmadge students and can participate in all Tallmadge schools’ sponsored activities. 

The students would commit for a semester and remain at Tallmadge Online Academy even if schools are closed because of COVID-19.

The Tallmadge Online Academy would use two platforms, Lincoln Learning Solutions for grades K-5 and Ingenuity for grades 6-12, said Shelley Monachino of the office of teaching and learning. The programs are self-based with parent involvement for the younger students. School counselors would help students choose classes, and each student would receive a learning advocate to support students and families. Classes are taught by certified virtual teachers.

"This is a huge decision, but we want to help you make the best decision for your child," Ferguson said. "We’re here as a resource. We’ll give you all the information to make an informed decision."

The school board approved changes to the start of the school year. New teachers will report Aug. 12 with all teachers reporting Aug 13. Students in K-5 will be phased in on Aug. 26, 27 and 28 with all students reporting Aug. 31. Aug. 27 will be the first day for grades 6-12 if a blue day and Aug. 28 will be the first day for grades 6-12 if a gold day. The online academy would begin Aug. 27.

Students will be brought in small numbers to learn how to be safe in the building, directions in the hallway, health checks, hand washing and become familiar with other changes, Ferguson said.

A task force is in each building and plans will be finalized July 29, Ferguson said.

The reopening plan calls for meeting the state’s guidelines, presented earlier this month by Gov. Mike DeWine, of accessing for symptoms; washing and sanitizing hands to prevent spread; thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the school environment to limit spread on surfaces: practicing social distancing: and implementing face coverings policy.

All staff and students will wear a mask but there will be times when masks can be removed, Ferguson said. If students are working independently at a desk that is 6 feet apart from others, they can do it without a mask. If they are outdoors and social distancing, they can go without a mask.

"Students will wear masks but we will give mask breaks," Ferguson said.

School times will be 7:20 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. for Tallmadge High School; 7:20 a.m. to 2:14 p.m. for Tallmadge Middle School and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Tallmadge Elementary School. Kindergarten will be split into two groups with one attending 9 to 11:30 a.m. and the second group meeting 12:30 to 3 p.m.

The plan also includes a back to school checklist for parents for discussing and selecting their choice of in-person or online schooling for their child; a subscription bus form needed to plan bus routes; helping children wear a mask; child care arrangements for all options; and practicing proper hand washing and sanitizing. 

"Our goal to provide a safe environment for students and staff to return to school while maximizing in-person learning," Ferguson said.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com