Pickerington Schools officials are planning to open the district's buildings for the 2020-21 school year in August, but it won't be instruction as usual.

Backed by unanimous approval from the Pickerington school board July 13, district officials plan to start the 2020-21 school year under a "hybrid" model that would see teachers, staff and students wearing face masks and students attending in-building classes twice a week, and completing their lessons via online instruction the other three days.

Students also would have the option of enrolling in the district's Virtual Learning Academy, whereby they would take all of their classes for the year via online programs.

Any student planning to take classes online must register by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, July 26, through the district's website at pickerington.k12.oh.us.

The plan is being rolled out amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've had parent surveys, staff surveys," said Lori Sanders, Pickerington school board president. "It's not an easy task and we know there's not one right or wrong approach.

"We'll get it right. Everyone will work their hardest, and we'll do what we hope is the best decision on behalf of all the students."

The district has developed color-coded levels that dictate how education is delivered.

Under Level Green, all students who are not enrolled in the virtual academy program would be expected to attend classes.

The district intends to start the 2020-21 school year under Level Yellow, which calls for students to attend classes in schools twice a week and take classes virtually three days a week.

Students will be placed into one of two "cohorts," which will determine if they attend class Mondays and Tuesdays or on Thursdays and Fridays.

The cohorts will help school-building staff members maintain 6-foot distancing in classrooms.

"Approximately 50% of our students in each building would be attending various days," said Bob Blackburn, an assistant superintendent of student services for the district. "We would put the cohorts together based off households.

"We want families attending all in the same day. That would help with some of our families if the older students (in those families) would be babysitting the younger students on the days they are receiving virtual instruction."

The district's Level Orange would go into effect if the Ohio Department of Health closes a specific building within the district because of COVID-19 cases.

Under it, students in the closed school would move to full-time virtual classes while students in buildings that remain open would continue to attend classes daily or twice a week, depending on the level color.

Under Level Red, all students would stay home and take classes virtually.

Additionally, all students, staff and visitors to school buildings would be required to wear facial coverings or masks.

As of July 13, officials said, face shields would be permitted, as opposed to face masks, but noted the policy could change if directed by state health officials.

"Staff members are going to be required to wear a face mask or face covering, and we are going to have all of our students -- preschool through grade 12 -- required to wear face masks or coverings while on school transportation and also throughout the school day," said Sharon Schmitz, district health supervisor.

"Anybody that's in our buildings, it's for the safety of everybody around.

"It's an extra layer of protection to decrease those respiratory droplets from spewing out to somebody else and, hopefully, decreases the spread."

District officials said additional health precautions would be taken, including disabling water fountains that are activated by hand and outfitting them with touchless stations where students and staff can fill bottles without touching an activation pad, handle or button.

"You don't have to touch anything," said Eric Steinle, head custodian for the Toll Gate Elementary and Middle School campus. "The (activation) pads don't work. It's all touchless."

Buses would be cleaned in preparation of morning routes, hand-sanitizer dispensers will be installed in classrooms and throughout common areas of buildings and high-traffic touch points will be cleaned "numerous times throughout the day," according to the district's website.

Additionally, district officials are asking parents and student caretakers to assist in monitoring students' health to prevent the potential spread of the virus.

They're being asked to take students' temperatures prior to each school day, and anyone with a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is required to stay home.

"They will need to stay home for 72 hours -- until they are 72 hours fever-free without the use of medication," Schmitz said.

Citing patient-privacy laws, district officials said they would not publicly identify any students or employees who test positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Those who do must stay home for at lease 10 days, and the district will work with the Fairfield County Health Department to identify any student or employee who has had close contact in the school setting with a person who has tested positive.

"Close contact is defined as within 6 feet, for more than 15 minutes at one time, to an individual with COVID-19," the district's website states.

Heather Tinsley, president of the Pickerington Education Association, which represents the district's teachers, said the organization appreciates district officials' work to try to come up for alternatives to safely educate students.

"With so much uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, no plan to reopen school buildings will ever be perfect, but the Pickerington Education Association appreciates the administration's thoughtful approach to putting this plan together," Tinsley said.

"No one wants to be back in the classroom with our students more than educators, but safety has to be the priority, and we are grateful to the district leaders for allowing educators to have a voice in some of these very difficult decisions.

"We know some of our members still have serious concerns for their safety and that of their students. PEA will continue to work with the administration moving forward to ensure the reopening plans are responsive to the changing situation."

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