HOLGATE — During Monday’s Holgate Local Schools Board of Education meeting, options for the start of the 2020-21 school year were discussed.
While schools throughout the state are waiting for guidelines from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, planned to be released Thursday, Superintendent Kelly Meyers said they have been working on different options.
Meyer said her goal is to have a plan in place by the last week of July, and she said it will likely have tiered options. Meyer made the comparison to a stoplight, such as green — in-person instruction for five days per week with safety modifications in the building and buses; yellow — a mixture of in-person and remote learning varying by grade level; and red — completely online learning.
“We have to have different responses ready,” she said, adding 72% of parents surveyed indicated they wanted as normal of a school year for their kids as possible. “Any plan that we put into place, the number one goal has to be how can we have as safe of an environment as possible for students and staff while still having ‘normal’ school.”
Meyer noted it’s not possible to completely eliminate the risk of the virus, but they have been discussing what can be done to reduce the risks, including reducing contact with high-touch surfaces, frequently sanitizing surfaces, installing hand sanitizer stations at various locations, such as on buses, in the cafeteria and doors near playground equipment and social distancing. “But what we need to understand is, no matter what plan we put into place, we can’t mitigate all of the risks of somebody getting this virus or any other type of virus because that’s just the nature of when you’re bringing this many people together in a facility,” she continued. “But what common-sense things can we put into place, what can we do, to try to lower the chances.”
Meyers added masks are a controversial topic and noted she’s unsure if they can make masks mandatory, especially for younger students when it’s a distraction.
Overall, Meyer said the indication at the state level is that it will likely be recommendations, not mandates, and districts, along with the local health department, will develop their plans. She added the county superintendents have been frequently in touch with each other and Henry County Health Commissioner Mark Adams throughout the past few months.
“Across the county, we’ve talked about those things that we all agree to, what are those things that we have in common and put together a joint statement across the county, but allowing for flexibility across our individual districts because we have different numbers, different building structures, there might be different situations that might make us doing something a little differently.”
Meyer noted transportation is also a concern, especially in regard to social distancing. If there is a positive COVID-19 case in the schools, Meyer said additional areas which need to be addressed include contact tracing — finding out who’s been in close contact with the individual who tested positive and informing them of the positive result — and how quarantines would be handled. Additional items of note include that most visitors would be prohibited and those permitted inside would undergo temperature checks and activities such as fields trips and assemblies would not be held.
Meyer said the hybrid option would be the most complicated for the district to try to implement due to the fact that staff is shared between grade levels and buildings, as well as transportation issues and how in-person attendance could possibly be split.
“You have to think about we have families who would be in need of child care ... if there’s older siblings, would we have them all at home on the same day so the older siblings can watch younger siblings, and how deep do you go?” she said. “You’re not going to be able to make that work for everyone.”
Meyer said, if they would have to implement remote learning, they want to incorporate feedback based on information from a survey performed by the district on the remote learning that took place at the end of last school year. Common comments included parents wanting more video instruction with the teacher explaining new concepts and lessons; virtual class meetings on a regular basis; and clearly outlined office hours for teachers when students can get help and parents can ask questions. In addition, Meyer said she feels more professional development time is needed for teachers to prepare remote learning options and learn more about the technology that’s involved.
A remote learning plan will also have to be approved by the board by Nov. 1.
“We’ll be dealing with that in the event that we need that if we have a spike in cases during the school year and we have to go to remote learning in a short period of time,” Meyer said, adding they have also been discussing with Adams a “magic number,” or percentage, of positive cases that would indicate a switch to remote learning is needed but nothing has been definitely decided yet.
Meyer said they are also making plans for an option for parents who do not want to send their child to school, and that would include an online curriculum option through the Northwest Ohio Virtual Academy lab. The instructor could monitor log-ins and hours worked. Meyer added that option would include an agreement with the family which outlines the duration and daily attendance requirements for log-on and work completion.
After DeWine’s announcement, Meyer said she will be talking to the other county superintendents, as well as other groups involved, such as teachers, as the district’s plan is being formed.
Treasurer Kent Seemann said the district is anticipating between $30,000-$35,000 in CARES funding that will be used to purchase items such as cleaners and hand sanitizer.