Olentangy Schools has a plan for the 2020-21 school year – but how learning actually will look when school begins will depend on a color-coded map.
With the plan tethered to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System and its rating of Delaware County related to the COVID-19 coronavirus, the district reminded residents via its Facebook page July 16 that “this situation is continually changing” and to “check back often for updates and new information.”
Earlier that day, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the county had moved from Level 2 (orange) to Level 3 (red) in the system, triggering a requirement that county residents and visitors wear facial coverings when in public.
The district plans to offer in-person, five-days-a-week instruction for its students to start the 2020-21 school year if the county falls back into Level 2.
However, if the county stays in Level 3, the district would use a hybrid attendance model that would include half of students in the school buildings and half learning at home every day.
Should the county rise to Level 4 (purple), the district would move to a fully virtual model.
The district announced the plan for K-12 students on its website and via email July 13. A plan for the district’s preschools was awaiting feedback and/or approval from additional state agencies July 17.
To accommodate the plan, the district will move the start of school from Aug. 20 to Aug. 31, according to the announcement from Superintendent Mark Raiff.
“We also recognize some families may require a dedicated distanced alternative, and all students will be given the opportunity for a full distance-learning option with a year-long commitment,” Raiff said in the announcement.
Parents are required to opt in for the distance-learning option, which will be taught by Olentangy teachers, by July 31.
The full plan, including changing the starting date for classes, awaits formal approval from the school board, which next meets Tuesday, July 28.
In the meantime, a website with details and an option for families to provide feedback is available at olentangyschools.org.
District spokeswoman Krista Davis said it is possible some details of the plan could be changed based on that feedback.
“Our intention is to be back together safely,” said board member Mindy Patrick. “We will continue to monitor guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the Ohio Department of Health and the Delaware General Health District.
“As we move forward, families will make the choice that is best for them and we respect that choice,” she said. “There is no easy path; what works best for one may not be what’s best for another.”
The district’s mass-notification system will be used to provide updates as needed, according to the announcement.
“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,” Raiff said in the announcement.
Details of the plan, including mandates on mask wearing, hand washing, cafeteria use, transportation, social distancing and more, vary based on the model in place.
Under the daily attendance model, masks would be required for all staff and all students K-12, with some exceptions and variables. Health screenings in this model would be completed at home, and those who are sick should remain home. Cafeteria lines and seating would be distanced by 3 feet.
Registration would be required for bus riders, as would masks, and students would be required to sanitize their hands when entering the bus. Parents must notify the district by Sunday, July 26, if they intend to use district transportation.
The July 13 announcement received mixed reviews from parents.
“(My son) does learn better in a classroom with structure, but is it worth the risk?” asked Nicole Zupich, mother of the soon-to-be fifth-grader at Johnnycake Corners Elementary School.
Zupich said her concerns include whether required distancing is possible in an elementary school setting and the possibility that students might be sent to school sick.
“If a child tests positive, how, if at all, will that information be shared?” Zupich asked.
She also expressed concern about the safety of teachers and students with special needs, and the lack of options for distance learning.
Originally, the district said it would require a yearlong commitment for students who wanted to take the remote-learning option.
However, shortly after the district’s plan was released, it was updated to allow parents and students to switch from remote to in-person learning after the first semester.
“There’s no good way to address what’s happening for everyone, and I don’t envy anyone in a decision-making position,” Zupich said.
“I believe Olentangy did a phenomenal job preparing a well-thought-out plan that benefits everyone,” said Anna Johnson Castellanos, one of the founders of the Facebook group Open Olentangy, which has advocated for the return to full-time, in-person classes in August.
“There are common-sense safety measures in place which we also advocated for,” she said. “There are other safety measures that they put in place, such as masks and health surveys, that have been hotly debated in the group, but I support all of Olentangy’s decisions.
“They made a very well-thought-out plan in a very difficult time.”
Castellanos, who has five children, including a recent Liberty High School graduate and four others ranging in age from grades 2-12, said her family will opt for the full-time, in-person option.
She said she has encouraged the district to “not penalize kids who have to miss school because of any sickness. We asked that parents would be encouraged to keep sick kids at home and not send them.”
Castellanos said she was taking a wait-and-see approach to the district’s decision to tie the attendance models to the state’s color-coded emergency levels and that she would continue to encourage families to wear masks in public and wash hands frequently.
“I want to thank (district leaders) for listening to us and for the next-level education and care they bring to our students on a daily basis,” she said.