LEWIS CENTER — With the 2020-21 academic school year scheduled to begin in just over a month, school districts have been working overtime to finalize plans in the midst of ever-changing circumstances. On Monday, the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD) announced those plans to reopen schools as part of its “Back Together 2020” effort.
A letter from Superintendent Mark Raiff detailing the plans was sent to parents across the district via email, as well as posted to the district’s website.
“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the upcoming school year,” Raiff said in the letter. “Based on available information from Ohio’s governor as of July 2, 2020, school districts in Ohio will create individual learning models formed by guidance and regulations provided by the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Ohio Department of Health, and the Delaware General Health District.”
Originally scheduled to begin on Thursday, Aug. 20, the letter states the district is “pursuing” pushing the start of classes back to Monday, Aug. 31. “This allows for the guaranteed arrival of safety equipment and for teachers and staff to acclimate to social distancing procedures between Aug. 20 and Aug, 31 as they prepare to welcome your children back to our facilities,” Raiff said.
When classes are resumed, OLSD has prepared four models based on the county’s risk level at that time. If Delaware County is considered a level one or level two public emergency, as it currently sits, students will be in classrooms for all five school days each week. Three-foot social distancing measures will be implemented in all classrooms when possible, and all students and staff will be required to wear masks unless a medical provider recommends otherwise. Students are encouraged to wear their own masks, but schools will provide them if needed.
Raiff said of the mask mandate, “I know and appreciate that people have very strong feelings about the masks. But based on guidance from the health district, it is essential that if we’re going to have people in school, we have to wear masks. And if this is the thing that gets back into school together, it’s simply what we have to do.”
Hand-sanitizing stations will be installed in all classrooms, as well as in common areas around the buildings. To ensure cafeteria safety, lunchroom space may be extended to other areas of the buildings to ensure proper social distancing requirements can be met.
As part of the plan, the volunteer training program will be suspended, and only essential visitors will be permitted into the buildings.
Students requiring bus transportation to or from school will be required to preregister for the service. Riders will be required to wear face coverings, sanitize hands as they enter the bus, and will be assigned seats. Between routes, the buses will be cleaned and disinfected. Parents must register their children for bus transportation by Friday, July 24.
If the county moves to a level three public emergency, the district plans to move to a hybrid model that would have students splitting time between in-classroom and distance learning. Raiff said the schedule for students in that scenario would be similar to the traditional kindergarten schedule in which students rotate between being in a physical classroom two days of one week and three days the next week. As part of this model, six-foot social distancing requirements would be implemented for students in the buildings when possible.
Should Delaware County upgrade the public emergency to level four, signaling a severe spread of the virus and high exposure rates, OLSD will move entirely to a virtual learning experience five days a week. The program would be similar to what students experienced in spring, although Raiff said the district “learned a lot” last spring and many changes have been recommended to provide an improved experience.
Both teachers and students will also have the option to opt into a year-long “committed distance learning” program if they wish. If parents decide to opt their children into the program, the student must remain there for the entire school year. Meal service will still be provided to students opting into distance learning, with prepackaged meals available for pickup at select buildings. The deadline to register for distance learning for the school year is Friday, July 31.
“We must be flexible and prepared in the COVID-19 ever-changing environment, and therefore have prepared four models for this school year,” Raiff said. “We ask that you review all models with open minds and know that we may need to move among the three attendance models as conditions change.”
OLSD’s proposal for the 2020-21 school year will be presented to the Olentangy Board of Education at its July 28 meeting for final approval. To learn more about the proposal, visit www.olentangy.k12.oh.us. On Thursday, a micro-site will be launched on the website that will contain more details about the back-to-school protocols.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.