Woodridge ironing out plans for new school year

Virtual academy in the works to provide online option

APRIL HELMS Reporter

CUYAHOGA FALLS – Plans for the 2020-21 school year are still being fine-tuned, as the Woodridge Local Schools try to work out how to provide an education to its students in the middle of a pandemic.

Superintendent Walter Davis said that he plans to present a formal plan to the Woodridge Board of Education at its July 21 meeting and, pending approval, will post the plan the next day on the district’s website. Parents will also be notified of the plan by mail.

The Woodridge school district administration is also working on a virtual academy “for a variety of needs.”

“It will be the program we utilize for those parents who are not ready to send their children back to school due to COVID-19,” Davis said. “We are also sending material about the academy to all resident families whose children are currently enrolled in charter schools in hopes that some may return and utilize our virtual option.”

He said the online program will also help students with credit recovery and as “an alternative to suspension and expulsion when students have behavioral difficulty.”

The Woodridge Virtual Academy will be coordinated by Albert DiTommaso, the assistant principal at Woodridge Middle School. DiTommaso had initially been working on the concept of a virtual school as part of his capstone project for his superintendent’s license.

Davis said the district has hired a contractor to coordinate the curriculum, which will be supplemented by district educators.

“Once we know how many students will be enrolled in the virtual program, we will make arrangements to assign appropriate staff to it,” he added. 

“When resident children leave us to attend a charter school, the state deducts $6,020 from our state foundation funding and sends it to the charter. Even though we don’t get $6,020 per child from the state — this year we are only getting $688 per kid — that amount leaves us whenever a student enrolls elsewhere ... As such, it is to our benefit to provide options for families who may want something different.”

According to Davis, 55% of parents asked in a recent survey said they would send their children back to the buildings, 16% said they would not, and 28% said their decision would depend on the district’s reopening plan.

“Additionally, our initial survey of Woodridge families indicates that there are approximately 20% of our parents who are interested in the online option due to concerns about COVID-19,” Davis said.

One potential issue for in-person attendance is face coverings, Davis said.

“I can tell you most parents don’t want their kids wearing masks,” he said. “There were 15 pages of responses, and many said no masks.”

Davis said that district staff measured out classrooms in the elementary school, and found that the classrooms could fit “at least 20 kids, 6 feet apart.”

“We believe at the elementary level things are looking good,” he said. “Our class sizes aren’t much bigger than that, anyway.”

For the kindergarten classrooms, which typically seat four kindergartners each at a round table, the district could reduce it to two per table and add plexiglass, Davis said. This would fit about 18 students per kindergarten class.

The middle school will be trickier, since most of the classrooms use tables and not desks, Davis said.

The biggest challenge for the Woodridge schools will be busing, Davis said.

“We want to make decisions that are consistent across school districts,” Davis said. “The biggest headache is the unknown, but I think we are poised to be adaptable.”

The district is conducting another survey this month, Davis added.

For details on the upcoming board meeting or the district, see www.woodridge.k12.oh.us/index.jsp online.

State guidelines

Gov. Mike DeWine released the regulations on reopening schools July 2, with an emphasis that many decisions will be left to the individual districts.

"We know that each school system, and perhaps each school building, will likely look different in the fall. We also know that Ohio has a long history of local control and that school administrators and teachers know their schools best," said DeWine. "Working together and consulting with educators and other health officials, we have developed a set of guidelines, backed by science, that each school should follow when developing their reopening plans."

More details on the new school guidance are available on coronavirus.ohio.gov.

The guidance outlines call for all staff and volunteers to wear a face covering, unless doing so would be a violation of industry standards, are not advisable for health reasons, or there is a practical reason for not wearing a facial covering.

In addition, it “is strongly recommended that students in third grade and higher wear a face mask unless they are unable to do so for a health or developmental reason,” according to information from the state

“The majority opinion among experts appears to be that children kindergarten through fifth grade can wear masks as long as consideration is given for the age and developmental level of the child and the physical situation the child is in at that moment,” according to the state regulations. Students also are strongly encouraged to wear masks while they are on school buses.

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