LEWIS CENTER — Continuity and cohesion have been fleeting in schools dating back to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, but there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD). During Thursday’s meeting of the OLSD Board of Education, Superintendent Mark Raiff provided an update on the district’s attendance model and announced schools are expected to return to a full in-person model beginning Monday, March 15.
“It’s been nearly a year — we’re about 11 months (in),” Raiff said Thursday. “We began our journey in this pandemic with a sudden and immediate shutdown of school that we thought was going to last a few weeks, and then a month, six weeks, and, ultimately, the remainder of the year. We created an emergency learning plan to finish the last nine weeks of the school year. It wasn’t ideal, but we got through that with the true Olentangy spirit and determination.”
Raiff said the decision to return is a result of infection rates trending downward over the past four weeks, and the belief that the rates will continue to decrease moving forward. He added the district has “successfully mitigated” the spread of the virus in schools “through a variety of efforts” such as mask mandates, social distancing, emphasis on hygiene, and heavy sanitization in buildings.
“We know now, over the course of the year, that what we’re doing in our schools is working to mitigate the spread of the virus,” he said.
Raiff added the ability for teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination has been a “game-changer” for the district’s top concern of keeping teachers healthy and able to facilitate in-person learning to any degree, especially on a full-time basis. According to a survey given to district staff, upwards of 90% expressed interest in getting the vaccination, and a vaccine clinic was held on Feb. 7 at Berlin High School for the first round of vaccinations. Another clinic will be held at the school on March 6 for staff to receive the second vaccination.
The March timeframe for return to a normalized schedule was decided upon after considering numerous factors, Raiff said. Among those factors were providing staff with time to prepare for the shift back to full in-person learning, the two weeks the district will have to work out any issues prior to the start of spring break, and the fact that staff will have received their second vaccination prior to the return.
Beginning anew on March 15 will also allow for the district to enter into the fourth quarter of the school year, following the return of students from spring break, with the five-day model of in-person schooling up and running.
Throughout the pandemic, Raiff said the single question at the forefront of every decision the district has made regarding the learning model has been how to maximize student learning while minimizing the risks for students and staff. Many factors went into that decision, including infection rates, quarantine rates, the number of students and teachers who have been sent home ill, attendance numbers, and more.
In July, ahead of the 2020-21 school year, Olentangy families were given two options for how students would attend classes in the fall. The first model consisted of a fluid system that could range between in-person learning, a hybrid model, or entirely virtual learning depending on the status of the pandemic in Delaware County. The fluidity of the in-person model stemmed from the uncertainty of the district on how best to approach a school year in the midst of a pandemic, but the district has been able to maintain a hybrid model over the past five months.
The second model allowed for parents to opt their students into a virtual learning platform for a semester at a time. Raiff said he believes some parents opted for the dedicated virtual platform for multiple reasons, including the threat of the virus and the stability of knowing what model their children would have for all of the school year.
In consideration of the families who will still wish not to have their students in a physical classroom this spring, committed distance learning will continue to be offered to those who opt out of in-person learning.
Of course, with March 15 still more than a month away, the district’s plans are subject to change. Raiff said the district’s plans will be submitted to the Delaware Public Health District for review, and updates on the status of the return will be provided during board meetings on Feb. 25 and March 11.
Name selected for new elementary
In addition to the update on the attendance model for the remainder of the school year, Thursday’s board meeting brought about the name revealing of OLSD’s 16th elementary school. Final selections for the school name included Berlin Crossing, Berlin Meadows, Peachblow Corners, Peachblow Crossing and Shale Hollow Elementary.
However, after discussion from the board, members narrowed the list to either Shale Hollow or Berlin Meadows. Board member Kevin O’Brien offered up a combination of the two favorites — Shale Meadows — which received final approval from the rest of the board.
Traditionally, school names in the district have mirrored the subdivisions in which the building is located, area references, or local historical references. Shale Hollow is a nod to a park south of the school, just off of U.S. Route 23.
The district received more than 125 suggestions from the community in a survey sent around the district before the final list of names was chosen.
Currently under construction just off of Peachblow Road in the Berlin Meadows subdivision, Shale Meadows is on track to be turned over to the district this summer and ready to be filled for the next school year.