Both Delaware City Schools and Big Walnut Local Schools have laid the groundwork for the 2020-21 school year amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

But first, members of Big Walnut’s class of 2020 will turn their tassels in a rarity for this year: a traditional, in-person graduation ceremony.

Big Walnut High School’s 2020 graduation will be held from 8 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, July 25, at the high school stadium, 555 S. Old 3C Road, according to the district’s website.

The ceremony originally was slated May 16.

Graduates have been given three options regarding commencement, and those who choose to attend the in-person ceremony will be limited to four guests each, the website said.

The second option is a diploma drive-through pickup from 6 to 8 p.m. July 29 at the school. Graduates and their family members must be in the same vehicle.

The third option is for graduates to pick up their diplomas at the high school’s main office during school hours starting Aug. 3.

Most other central Ohio school districts opted for drive-through or video-based graduation ceremonies this year, including Delaware City Schools, whose drive-through commencement was held May 23.

In Delaware, classes will resume Aug. 31, with students on a split schedule in classrooms and learning remotely at home – though parents will have the option of a fully online learning academy.

The school board approved the district’s Healthy Restart Plan on July 13 in a remote meeting livestreamed on Facebook.

Big Walnut has announced its restart plan on its website, offering two options: attending classes in person or learning remotely.

Families must select an option by Monday, July 20.

The district will use a staggered start for all grades Aug. 24-28, with the first day of full-day learning Aug. 31.

Delaware Superintendent Heidi Kegley told board members, “The recommendation would be to implement a blended education model. There would be two cohorts of students to reduce the overall numbers in the building on a daily basis. There would be continued learning for all, regardless of if the student was in school learning or at home learning, based on their cohort attendance.

“For example, week one, 50% of our students would attend school three days, while at-home learning would take place two days,” Kegley said. “The next week, they would attend school two days and be at home three days.

“In addition, we would offer a completely online academy for students who are not comfortable coming back to school or for specific health concerns or concerns of their family,” she said.

Face masks would be required for all staff and students, and mask breaks would be held for the youngest students, Kegley said.

All buildings would follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleaning protocols, and protocols would be developed for students’ arrival and dismissal, the cafeteria, class transitions and for specific buildings, she said.

Kegley said the students’ return would be preceded by the district staff returning to work Aug. 14 to provide professional development in the areas of antiracism, diversity and inclusivity, plus online learning platforms and online lesson development.

The early start for the staff “would also provide an opportunity to implement all of the health and safety protocols and ensure that staff have everything needed for the start of the school year,” she said.

The time also will be used to fully prepare classrooms, engage in orientations and parent meetings, understand safety expectations and prepare for both in-person and online learning scenarios, she said after the meeting.

District public information officer Jennifer Ruhe said families have until Friday, July 24, to select the all-online academy.

“Our staff will be available to answer questions and provide guidance and support to any family with questions about the online academy,” she said.

Kegley told the board that input was received from 250 staff members and surveys completed by 2,510 families representing 3,859 students. More than 100 staff and school board members participated in working groups, and all possible options were examined, she said.

The pandemic is an ever-changing situation, she said, and the district will continue to monitor state and local health recommendations.

Students will use the Canvas online learning platform, Ruhe said.

“We have also added a video-conferencing tool to enhance the opportunity for students and staff to interact during online lessons,” she said.

That will maximize the opportunity for increased interaction between students and teachers, Kegley told the board. The online academy will require specific online time daily and engagement in classes, she said.

The Big Walnut website says all students in third grade and higher and all staff members will be required to wear face masks during in-person learning. Increased health and safety precautions will be in place, and students might be switched to remote learning or a hybrid model if the pandemic worsens, according to the site.

For remote learning, the district will provide Chromebook laptop computers, and digital lessons will include teacher interaction. Some classes might be taught by the Big Walnut staff, but remote students might not have access to all classes offered to in-person students, the website says.

Parents are encouraged to transport students to and from school when possible; students riding buses will have assigned seats and must wear face masks and use hand sanitizer when boarding and departing.

Big Walnut’s pandemic-response committee determined a hybrid model of alternating in-person and at-home learning presented logistical challenges; the risk of exposure would increase if working parents take students to daycare centers when not at school, the website says.

More information on the Big Walnut reopening plan can be found at tinyurl.com/bwreopen.

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