Woodridge announces plan for new school year

Higher grades will attend part-time online

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
Superintendent Walter Davis illustrates the difference between desks being placed three feet apart, in front, while standing between desks placed six feet apart, during the Woodridge school board meeting July 21.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — Students at Woodridge Local Schools will see a lot of differences in the coming school year.

Desks will replace some tables. Hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the school buildings. Students and staff will be wearing masks.

While students at the elementary school will be in school five days a week in general, students at the middle and high schools will be in the building twice a week, with the remainder of the week being taught online. Also, this year, students have the option of taking all of their classes online.

The Woodridge school board unanimously approved of the district’s back to school plan at its July 21 meeting.

“We literally pored through every possible article of guidance we could find,” said Superintendent Walter Davis during the meeting. “There’s not a whole lot of surprises in these state documents. We were hoping for more guidance from the state. But the state left a lot of decisions up to the districts.”

Both Davis and Board President Jeffrey McHugh commended the committee which helped put together the reopening plan, needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered schools in mid-March and forced districts to go to a remote curriculum.

“I made sure that we had people representing just about every job classification in the district because I wanted them to walk through the plan, too, and say ‘wait a second, you missed this,’ or ‘wait a minute, what about that?’” Davis said.

McHugh said that the parents involved “were really engaged.”

“They've been involved, and they were concerned,” McHugh said. “They dug deep, and they gave us a lot of good questions and suggestions.”

One thing the district plans to do is utilize the Ohio Public Health Advisory System. The governor’s office recently created a color-coded system for the state’s 88 counties that indicate the amount of risk of exposure to COVID-19. The colors, from least to most severe, are yellow, orange, red and purple.

In general, the district plans to have classes in person five days a week for prekindergarten through fifth grade. Students at Woodridge Middle School and Woodridge High School will attend either Monday and Wednesday, or Tuesday and Thursday, with remote instruction with their teachers through Google Meet the remaining days.

“While we certainly would prefer to welcome all of our middle and high school aged students back to school every day, all day, the space limitations of our two secondary buildings make doing so with appropriate physical distancing protocols impossible,” Davis said.

Also, if Summit County is placed on Level 4, or purple, by the state, or if local conditions warrant it, the schools will go back online.

“I want to make it very clear we will not flip flop back and forth,” Davis said. “But parents should prepare for that because if we are told on Monday that we are in purple, on Tuesday we will be doing remote.”

The first day of school for students is Aug. 19, except kindergarten, Davis said. That week, the district will have kindergarten screening, and school will start for them the next week, on Aug. 25. The screenings will be done by appointment.

All staff and students will need to wear masks, Davis said.

“We recognize, however, that our youngest students may have difficulty wearing face coverings all day,” Davis said. “Further, early primary instruction often depends on oral cues and clues making it necessary for the mouth to be visible.”

Davis said the district had “shields available and masks with clear coverings” around the mouth, and that teachers can switch from different types of PPE.

All students and staff will wear face coverings on buses, Davis said. District visitors also must wear a face covering. Exceptions to the mask policy will be granted and recorded for specific cases in which there is a documented health or functional reason that a face covering or mask cannot be worn.

The elementary school is large enough for all of the students there to be in the classroom five days a week and maintain social distancing, Davis said.

“It is my intention that class sizes will be kept to a much lower level than ever before,” Davis said. He added that the district will be able to do that by adding seven classroom sections, which can be done without an additional cost by moving staff around.

Davis said the district will maintain six feet distancing between students in the classrooms. Elementary students will be served breakfast in their classrooms. Lunch will be served in the cafeteria in all buildings.

Online learning, transportation, visitors

One change with the online learning, both for the older students taking their classes part of the week online and for the students who will be online full time, is there will be more structure, Davis said.

“We learned from the spring that we need to have a schedule during these days,” Davis said. “They will have a schedule even on days at home.”

This means taking attendance, counting tardies and requiring students to be online at specific times, Davis said. All courses will be graded.

“We were doing a pass-fail thing at the elementary and middle schools” last March, Davis said. Grades will be given for both in-person and online courses.

Transportation will be a big challenge, Davis said. Transportation schedules will be altered to ensure physical distancing on buses, but this could mean delays in normal bus pickup and drop-off times, and multiple runs may be needed in neighborhoods with a large number of bus riders. There will be one student per seat; siblings may sit together.

Visitors to the buildings will have to be limited, Davis said, including volunteers, who will not be used this school year.

“We love our volunteers and we know they do a lot for us, but this year we will have to ask them to take a year off,” Davis said.

Health screenings will be crucial this year, Davis said. Parents should screen their children daily, and if they have a fever of 100 or higher, or are otherwise feeling sick, they should not go to school.

“For heaven’s sake, if there’s the least question about their wellness, keep them home,” Davis said.

Same with staff, Davis added. Staff members feeling ill should also refrain from entering the school buildings.

There are still some unknowns with fall sports, Davis said.

“We’ve been following the guidelines from the Ohio High School Athletic Association,” Davis said. “As of today, we have not received guidance on contact sports. We are continuing as if there will be a fall athletic season. We hope to get solid guidance on this.”

The district is still waiting for guidance from Summit County Public Health on details on what protocol will be used if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, Davis said.

“The aspects of quarantine, the procedure is not ours to make,” Davis said. “We are required to report positive cases. It is possible, we hope this doesn’t happen, but a whole classroom may have to quarantine at home and go online. We need to be aware those possibilities exist.”

Details are still being ironed out, but Davis said the district plans to provide breakfast and lunch to eligible students, whether they are taking classes in school or online.

Students taking classes through College Credit Plus can take those courses that are taught within the district, Davis said. Students wishing to take a CCP course through a university will have to look into that university’s policies.

“Most university classes have been offered online,” Davis said. “My son, who attends Kent State university, is in full time, 17 hours. He only has one class that is face to face, the rest are online.”

Families will be mailed a letter explaining the two options available to them, with a form to fill out and send back on whether they wish to have their children go to the school buildings or take courses completely online. Those wishing to send their children back to the buildings also will be asked about if they wish their children to use the buses. Davis said replies are needed by Aug. 3 and can be mailed back, dropped off at the district’s administrative offices at 4411 Quick Road, or faxed to 330-928-1542. Davis said that in the future, there will be an online option for submitting the form, at woodridge.k12.oh.us.

Families in the district are encouraged to email questions to comments@woodridge.k12.oh.us.

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