What could the next school year look like?

Tentative plans call for sixth-graders to be split between Dodge Intermediate and R. Chamberlin MIddle School

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
Superintendent Kathryn Powers presented a preliminary plan for the 2021-22 school year. Under the tentative plan, most students would return to their regular school buildings. However, half of the sixth-grade class would go to Dodge Intermediate and the other half to R.. Chamberlin Middle School to ensure at least 4 feet of social distancing.

TWINSBURG -- Most of the school district's students may be returning to the buildings typically assigned to their grade, under preliminary plans outlined at Wednesday's school board meeting.

This past school year, to accommodate 6 feet of social distancing between students in the classroom, preschool and kindergarten students went to Wilcox Primary School; first graders attended Bissell Elementary School; second through sixth grade went to the high school building; seventh through ninth-graders took classes at Dodge Intermediate School; and the district’s 10th through 12th graders went to R.B. Chamberlin Middle School.

Keeping the CDC's most recent recommendations for 3 feet of social distancing in mind and the results of a survey sent to parents and staff, the district will aim to keep 4 feet of social distancing between students in the classrooms, said Superintendent Kathryn Powers. Teachers would still required to be at least 6 feet from their students.

In the tentative plan outlined Wednesday evening, first graders would return to Wilcox, along with the district's preschoolers and kindergarten students. Second- and third-grade students would return to Bissell, and ninth through 12th grades will return to the high school.

The biggest challenge, Powers said, was Dodge Intermediate School. This past school year "worked OK because not everyone was there" due to the option of the Twinsburg Virtual Academy, but recent parent surveys showed that more parents want their children to return to the buildings. In addition, Powers added, the state hasn't officially decided whether to allow districts to offer an online curriculum, although she said she felt that the state legislature would give its approval. 

"Dodge remains the center of concern in keeping kids at least 4 feet social distancing" due to the smaller classroom spaces, Powers said.

To maintain at least 4 feet of social distancing, Powers said one possibility would be to have the district's fourth- and fifth-graders, and half of the district's sixth-graders, go to Dodge, with the rest of the sixth-grade students going to R.B. Chamberlin Middle School, along with the district's seventh and eighth grades. Powers said that the sixth graders would be kept separate from the older students if this was the direction the school district goes in.

More than 1,700 families responded to a survey given in March about what they would prefer in the coming school year. The majority of parents favor education in the school buildings as opposed to remote.

Student meals would most likely continue to be served in the classrooms, Powers said, adding that all five building principals were in favor of this. The Summer Seamless program also will continue into the next school year. 

"This is great news for our parents," she said. "I know some families were hit hard financially. If they want, their child can eat breakfast and lunch for free."

Under the Summer Seamless program, breakfast and lunches are available free for all enrolled students, including students enrolled in the Twinsburg Virtual Academy. Funds for this program are compliments of the Federal USDA's CARES Act funding. This program started  with the 2020-21 school year. For details, visit the district's website at www.twinsburg.k12.oh.us.  

The additional people hired to help out with lunch and recess, as well as janitorial, will probably be asked to stay on, Powers said.

In the 2021-22 school year, students will start the week of Aug. 23 in a "soft reopening," from Aug. 23 through 26, like this past school year. Students will not have school Aug. 27. The last day for students will be May 27, 2022.

A more definitive plan on the 2021-22 school year will be presented to the school board for approval at the May 5 meeting, Powers said. The meeting will be in the Twinsburg Government Center starting at 7 p.m.

Powers said that even with a plan in place, the pandemic may force the district to modify and change its plans.

"We would love to have all of our students on campus," Powers aid. "We really miss all of our students. The reality is that probably won't happen in this next year. People are still scared. Families are still worried. In talking to the county health department, they are worried about the variants and where they may go."

Board member Rob Felber agreed.

"This is very preliminary," he said. "There are a lot of data points, a lot of things that still need to be determined. This is not a done deal."

Virtual academy

Powers said if the state gives the green light for districts to maintain an online option, she felt there should be criteria in place as to who could enroll. She said that in this past school year, 56 students in the virtual academy were on Attendance Intervention Plans, and four student cases were referred to the Summit County Juvenile Court for truancy.

"This is a troubling statistic," Powers said. "We've been talking for months about how we can encourage students who are disengaging to come back. If there is a virtual academy, criteria will be established."

Under the administration's proposal, students with 72 or more hours of an unexcused absence, and/or are absent for two days per month for nine months without an excuse "would be asked to attend on campus," Powers said. 

Powers stressed this would apply to absences without an excuse.

"If a student had a COVID situation, that's acceptable," she said. "If there's been a death in the family, that is acceptable. But I really believe we have to have strong criteria to attend the virtual academy."

If a student is on an IEP, the team working with the student also would be asked to provide their recommendations, Powers added.

Board vice president Mark Curtis said the district also should look at students who may have good attendance but still struggled with remote learning.

"Attendance is one piece that is critical," Curtis said. "But if a kid is attending regularly online, have they done well academically? They may be attending regularly, but are still not doing well academically. I don't know if I'd be comfortable offering a virtual option knowing they might struggle."

Board president Tina Davis said she was concerned about students who, because of health reasons, "might not be able to attend [in-person] due to health reasons."

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@thebeaconjournal.com