Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools families will have a choice between distance learning or hybrid learning – a rotation of in-person classroom and at-home learning – for the 2020-21 school year.

The district emailed a letter to families July 7 to announce the plan and noted a selection form would follow July 8.

Families were asked to choose from the two models by July 14 for planning purposes.

Superintendent Steve Barrett said the selection made for each student would remain in effect for the entire 2020-21 school year.

“This is a very difficult time for our families, staff and all of our Gahanna-Jefferson community,” he said. “We know the most powerful learning happens when our students are working in a classroom and in-person with one of our GJPS teachers.”

He said students who are immunocompromised or live with a family member who is immunocompromised, or families who don’t feel comfortable with a return to face-to-face instruction, might want to choose the all-online, distance-learning option.

The hybrid-learning model will follow a rotation of classroom and at-home learning, splitting students into two groups.

Barrett said one group will report to their buildings for face-to-face instruction Tuesday, Thursday and every other Monday.

The second group will report to their buildings Wednesday, Friday and every other Monday.

On the days students are at home, Barrett said, learning will continue with activities and assignments provided by teachers.

“For families who choose the hybrid model, the district will do all we can to ensure siblings are on the same schedule,” he said.

The district’s plan was developed on Franklin County Health Department recommendations that schools limit the number of students in classrooms at one time and maintain 6 feet of social distancing, and that students and staff wear masks at school to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Should the Franklin County alert level change to yellow or orange from red on the virus-rating scale set by the state, Barrett said, the district would reevaluate and possibly adapt its approach.

“It is heartbreaking that we cannot have a traditional reopening of our schools,” he said. “We would like nothing more than to have all of our students in our classrooms every day, learning with their teachers.”

Barrett said the safety of students and staff is the top priority, and with Franklin County at Red Alert Level 3 as of July 9, it’s not safe to have all of the students in the buildings at the same time.

“We believe it is important for our district to move forward with a plan so our students, families and staff can prepare, and so we can implement the best plan possible within these constraints,” he said. “Finding the balance between evaluating education options and maintaining health and safety priorities is extremely difficult.”

Barrett said it’s likely the district’s start date will be slightly delayed for the 2020-21 school year.

School originally was scheduled to start Aug. 12, but that will be adjusted, said Judy Hengstebeck, communications coordinator.

“We are looking at options for this now and do not have specific details ready to share, but we wanted to share this information as early as possible so you could begin thinking about plans for your family,” Barrett said.

While the 2020-21 school year will be different from anything the district has ever experienced in education, Barrett said, it provides an opportunity to sharpen skills and to be more innovative, creative and flexible.

“We are fully committed to doing what is necessary to support our students, staff and families through this difficult time,” he said.

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@ThisWeekMarla