Almost 17,000 Hilliard City Schools students are scheduled to resume classes Aug. 20, but how they will occur remains a work in progress, according to district leaders.
A number of scenarios are in play for the district’s Responsible RestartHilliard Schools plan, but about the only certainty is classrooms will not appear as they did previously, Superintendent John Marschhausen said.
Marschhausen outlined the early iteration of the plan June 11, during the first of several expected broadcasts on the Zoom videoconferencing platform to keep parents up to speed on the district’s evolving plan to safely reopen school buildings, which closed in an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus after Gov. Mike DeWine’s March 12 announcement.
“(Responsible Restart) is just in the beginning stages of planning and development,” Marschhausen said.
He outlined some of the possible scenarios.
One possibility is a series of four color-coded conditions – green, yellow, orange and red – that could change during the course of the school year, Marschhausen said.
Under green, all students would attend classrooms in a traditional manner but with a number of mitigations yet to be finalized.
“It won’t look like before,” he said.
It is possible students and staff could be required to wear masks.
“I know (masks are) a polarizing issue but masks are part (of the equation),” Marschhausen said.
Some decisions cannot be made because the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Health have not determined what actions are guidelines and recommendations and what actions are mandates, Marschhausen said.
“If it comes as a mandate, there is no flexibility,” he said.
Marschhausen said he hopes state officials allow districts to make local decisions in most instances.
“I’m 100% for local control,” he said. “I don’t want state officials to make those decisions.”
Marschhausen noted the dramatic differences among districts throughout Ohio, especially among rural and urban districts, where contagion widely varies.
Rather, he said, districts should rely on local boards of health for guidelines and mandates.
Under a yellow condition, all students through the fifth grade still would attend classrooms but measures would be taken to utilize all building spaces and maximize social distancing.
Students from sixth grade to 12th grade would attend classes on different days of the week.
Under an orange condition, a districtwide 50-50 plan would be in effect, with half of the students attending classrooms every other day.
When not in a classroom, students would participate in eLearning, the district’s remote-learning curriculum put in place after school buildings closed in mid-March.
A red condition would entail all students engaged in eLearning.
The program will be called eLearning 2.0 when employed this school year to reflect that it is “more rigorous and robust than this past spring’s eLearning,” said Stacie Raterman, director of communications for the district.
Meanwhile, work continues on a separate academic program, Hilliard Schools Online Academy.
The online academy, which includes an elementary-school curriculum being created in collaboration with the Lakota Local School District in suburban Cincinnati, is designed to provide a Hilliard education to students who choose not to return to classrooms, even if conditions allow for traditional classroom instruction, Raterman said.
Marschhausen referred to the results of a five-day, early June survey that asked if parents favored a return to the classroom, and the district faces what amounts to a “no-win” situation, he said.
The survey found almost 47% of respondents favored a return to traditional classrooms, almost 42% preferred a modified approach and 12% replied “unsure.”
“There are obvious divisions in our community, (and) people have strong feelings,” Marschhausen said. “(Our goal) is to be clear and transparent about the reasons we use in reaching (our) decisions.”
Based on reports from health experts, he said, he expects coronavirus conditions to change during the course of the year and that individual school buildings within the district will operate under different conditions at the same time.
Meanwhile, the district has considerations beyond academics.
Transportation presents a challenge, as the district grapples with how to utilize buses when social-distancing practices must be employed, Marschhausen said.
The district must also address the added costs of purchasing personal-protective equipment and operating two clinics at each school building – one to treat students who might develop any symptoms related to the coronavirus, and another for ordinary things like scraping a knee, he said.
But the overarching goal during planning is for the district to communicate “why we are doing what we are doing and why we aren’t doing what we aren’t doing,” he said.