SUNBURY — The Big Walnut Board of Education approved the reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year at its meeting Thursday in the District Administrative Office.
“We’ve talked about this every week since summer started, but it has to be formally approved,” District Superintendent Angie Hamberg told the board. The main change from previous iterations of the plan is that students from kindergarten through second grade now must also wear masks, joining those from grades third through 12th.
While admitting there is a lot of anxiety about reopening buildings to students, Hamberg said masks seem to be effective in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, as well as having three “barriers” between people. For example, a teacher wearing a mask and instructing a mask-wearing student from at least six feet away would constitute three barriers. She said having less than two barriers and spending more than 15 minutes with an infected person increases the chance of spreading the infectious disease. Students will be able to interact with others, yet be spread out.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” she said. “It’s been a crazy, crazy summer.”
Hamberg said she and other Delaware County school district superintendents meet weekly with the Delaware General Health District. She said if they determine things are getting worse in the county and within a district, the plan would be to go to an all-remote curriculum, based on the DGHD’s recommendation. As for now, school principals will adjust their mask protocols and hall movements as needed.
Even before classes begin, extracurricular activities are starting up at Big Walnut, as are the fall outdoor sports of golf and tennis. Two contact sports, football and soccer, are allowed to practice and are hoping to have a season and tournament. Details are still being worked out with regards to attendance, Hamberg said. She was also concerned about the loss of revenue from athletics. However, she was pleased about the students’ cooperation during a difficult time.
“Kids have, for the most part, been great about following the health guidelines,” she said. “For some kids, that’s (extracurricular activities) the reason they go to school.”
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the board approved amending student handbooks and other district documents to reflect the current health recommendations.
Board President Brad Schneider said, “There’s been a lot of flux. There’s nothing easy about this. We’re trying to do the right things for the kids, even if it’s harder on adults.”
The board also approved the district’s Remote Learning Plan, based on the recommendations of Ohio House Bill 164. Academic Director Jen Young said the district has to share the plan with the Ohio Department of Education. Young said that her team was able to create a plan for over 700 students in a few weeks, using district teachers for all courses except electives, without adding staff, and keeping an association to the student’s school building.
“It was a scheduling nightmare, but we were able to make it happen,” Young said.
The district could use additional substitute teachers, Hamberg said.
“Any of our parents, it would be a huge help to sub for us and keep our buildings open,” Hamberg said. “Some of our best subs are parents. They know the community.”
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In another business, the board approved a guaranteed maximum price for the Big Walnut Athletic Package with Gilbane Building Company. Facilities Director Doug Swartz said this final amendment for the new high school would be for $8.8 million (of which $1.5 million is for furniture). He said the athletic fields would be completed in the summer of 2021. The total cost for the Prairie Run Elementary and new high school is $93 million.
The board, by a 3-1-1 vote, also approved a policy on first reading regarding “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities.” Hamberg said they were given legal counsel to approve the policy change because it would go into effect as federal law the next day.
Assistant Superintendent Mark Cooper said this was a “huge overhaul of Title IX” that was driven by the U.S. Department of Education. Having to adopt the new policy during a pandemic was not the best time to do this, Cooper said. “The government didn’t want to hear it.”
The measure is considered controversial, Cooper said. TIME magazine said of it in article, “A New Title IX Rule Essentially Allows Accused Sexual Assailants to Hide Evidence Against Them.”
Board member Doug Crowl asked if the policy was a duplication of what was already in place. Cooper said it was, but also contradictory and a lot of things that didn’t make sense. Crowl moved to table the vote until the next meeting to give the board more time to read the material, saying he wasn’t fearful of the federal government. However, Cooper said delaying approval could result in the loss of federal funding.
In their comments, both Crowl and Schneider complimented graduating seniors and their family for a successful commencement ceremony on July 25. The socially-distanced event held in the football stadium had the venue at 32 percent capacity.
“I knew not everyone agreed on the protocols, but they went along,” Schneider said. “It makes me proud to be part of this community.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.