Tallmadge school board to give go-ahead on plans for schools reopening

Tallmadge students will have new protocols upon entering their school, and the district is looking at how to maintain social distancing. Tallmadge Online will be offered to students who choose not to return to the schools.

TALLMADGE – Parents of students in the Tallmadge City School District are urged to watch this week’s school board meeting for information about schools reopening.

Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said the district is presenting a draft plan to the Board of Education July 15 at 6 p.m. which will be live streamed.

Once the board gives the district guidance, they will finalize the plan, Ferguson said.

“The board has asked us to come up with three plans because the pandemic is changing as we speak,” Ferguson said. “We’ll review those three plans with the board.”

The three plans depend upon the circumstances of COVID-19. If Gov. Mike DeWine should close schools again, one plan will implement online education for the entire district. Another plan is a hybrid that will allow both online learning and in-class learning. The final plan would be implemented if conditions improve or a vaccine is found for the virus and school would be in-person for everyone with safety protocols.

“If the governor says we have to shut down schools, we want to be better prepared to go totally remote than in the spring when we had a two-day notice,” Ferguson said.

The board committee used the CARES Act money to purchase a computer for every student, a tool every student needed during shutdown, he said.

“If we see a spike [in COVID cases] in a building, the health department may shut it down for two weeks and we want to be prepared,” Ferguson said.

The hybrid model will maximize school grade levels with a full-day experience, he said. But the different grade levels could look differently.

Tentatively school will begin Aug. 17, Ferguson said. But DeWine said the start of school was flexible.

“The date could change depending on the expense of getting these schools ready,” Ferguson said. “We may need a little extra time.”

The Tallmadge City School District sent out surveys to parents at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

“We heard loud and clear from parents and guardians as they left for the summer,” Ferguson said. “The ability to send their children safely back to school was a high priority to them.”

The school district is balancing health and safety of students and staff with education that maximizes the number of students in the grade levels in the building, he said. Protocols involve temperature checks, wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing.

Parents can check their children’s health before coming to school and encourage them to wear masks now so they are comfortable wearing them in school, he said. Mask wearing may become mandatory in public.

“We need to help each other in this,” he said. “If I wear a mask, I not only help me but my coworkers and students. The governor said third through 12th grade students should wear a mask.”

Social distancing in the different spaces in the school will be the challenge, Ferguson said.

“We are studying the overall plans of the buildings and each one looks unique and different to figure out the space,” he said. “Then there is staffing. We would be challenged to add more staff.”

In May about 40% of parents wanted online education.

“We heard loud and clear from parents that said ‘we have no intention of bringing our children back in the fall without a vaccination,’” Ferguson said. “We committed to them to work hard this summer to create a distance learning platform called Tallmadge Online.”

An online form will be ready Thursday or Friday and available through July 31 so parents can sign their child up for online learning instead of sending their child to school. The district is asking parents to commit to their choice for a whole semester or from August to December so the schools will know how many students will be attending in person and prepare for that number. They can change their mind for the semester from January to June.

Online classes will be a separate program with an instructor, he added.

Transportation is a challenge and more information will come in the future, Ferguson said. Athletics and band practices began in June in limited groups and will follow the governor’s and Summit County’s public health guidelines.The official practice for fall athletic sports begins Aug. 1, he said.

“The music programs, physical education, arts and athletics are an important part of a child’s overall education, and we will try to keep as much of that in the school day and after school, but it’s definitely a challenge,” Ferguson said.

Although school will remain on traditional days of Monday through Friday, times may change because transportation will take longer and students will have a digital temperature scan upon entry, including hand washing.

“There are lots of things we’re trying to finalize,” Ferguson said.

The school board meeting will help families plan for their child’s school day.

“If we are on this model, this is what the day will look like for your child,” he said. “The board will give us the direction for the big pieces, and we’ll come back with finalized plans.”

In the governor’s plan for schools reopening, page 1 had the definition of unprecedented – “never done or known before.”

“Our number one goal in all of this is health and safety of students and staff,” Ferguson said. “We will have to make some tough decisions, but we are in this together.” 

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