Tallmadge 6-12 stays in hybrid with rising cases

Krista S. Kano
Kent Weeklies
Tallmadge School District will continue to be in a hybrid model through the end of the semester.

Tallmadge City Schools is seeing an increase in positive cases and quarantines and will keep all sixth- through 12th graders in a hybrid Level 2 model through the end of this semester. 

MORE: Tallmadge schools seeing increase in COVID-19 cases

"The hybrid that we are currently working under has helped us on these surges," Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said Nov. "Community spread is community spread and there's no way to keep it out of our buildings, but our safety protocols are designed to keep people safe in our buildings and keep kids in school. That's our No. 1 priority." 

Kindergarteners through fifth-graders are in school five days a week, but are spread out through multiple buildings. 

Confirmed positive cases have gone from 0 in September, to 3 in October, to now 11 as of Nov. 19.

Roy Zeman, director of student services, said quarantines are also on the rise. At the elementary school, for example, there were zero close-contact quarantines in September, 12 in October and 41 so far in November.

Even more students have been sent home for up to 10 days because they exhibited at least one symptom. 

This has happened despite the fact that they are able to maintain 6 feet of distance and require masks. 

"We're seeing kids and adults being out of school and its a combination of the COVID surge and also complications of the flu and cold and other winter things that kids typically get," Ferguson said. 

Increased cases have affected staffing levels, as well. 

Earlier this month, six bus drivers were quarantined, accounting for close to a quarter of the district's drivers, Chief Operations Officer Steve Wood said. Remaining bus drivers had to run multiple routes in a day, causing some children to get home later than normal. 

And on Monday, when the elementary school and middle school were closed due to power outages, the district was very close to closing one of them for lack of coverage, Ferguson said.

"Our principals keep reminding families that we could close a building for a day because we don't have enough coverage to do it safely," he said. "Every morning is all hands on deck, and that 5:30, 6 a.m. call may be that we're closed for a day or two weeks. That's a hardship — I understand — but our families have been very understanding, and they don't want us to open if we're not safely staffed." 

Given the data, Tallmadge's older students will stay in the hybrid model for the remainder of the semester and Ferguson is currently working on second-semester plans, which he expects to present at the Dec. 16 board meeting.

The presentation will include a status report on the district given the state of the pandemic and whether there would be any changes to the learning models. 

"If things improve between now and December, or even the first of the year, we will have the buildings ready where we could take six through 12 students and return them to five days a week. I think we've said all along is the goal is all K-12 in five days, but another goal is to keep kids in school and not force all of us to have to go remote because the community spread becomes school spread," Ferguson said. 

Ferguson said that even with 176 out of 518 Tallmadge Online Academy students choosing to return to in-person learning, the district will be able to maintain six feet of distance among students as long as they stay in a hybrid model. 

Were the district to move into its five-day, in-person Level 1 plan, social distancing would be even more challenging, and the district would likely only be able to maintain 3 feet in many situations. 

"As we bring more kids back to the building, we will not be 6 feet everywhere. We're still working and we feel in K-8 in the two new buildings, if everyone is back at Level 1, we can probably do [3-6] feet social distance. The high school will be a challenge because of the room size," Ferguson said. "But we would keep all safety protocols in place no matter what." 

Ferguson cautioned that there is a real possibility that they stay in the hybrid Level 2 model in the second semester, noting that the Summit County Public Health is concerned about surges following Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. 

"They are telling us we should prepare because January is a real concern. I would just tell you that we’ll have plan ready and when conditions do improve, we want everyone in school five days, but we need to do that safely," he said. 

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.