The South-Western City School District's plan is to start the 2020-21 school year Aug. 27 with a temporary blended-learning model.

Students at each school would be divided into two groups, one of which would be in the building on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays during the initial blended-model phase, Superintendent Bill Wise said.

If processes are working and data supports a change, the district would try to return to 100% face-to-face instruction on Sept. 21.

On the three days they are not in their buildings, students would be engaged in learning activities at home, Wise said.

The days of remote learning would mostly be an extension of what students are doing in the classroom during the two days they are in their buildings with teachers, Deputy Superintendent Dave Stewart said.

On two of the three days they are out of school, their teachers would be in school teaching the other group of students, he said.

Wednesdays would be set aside for a thorough, deep cleaning of the school buildings and another deep cleaning would take place after the second group of students end their school day on Friday, Stewart said. General cleaning would take place every day.

Wednesdays also would be available for in-school classes during weeks when there is no school on a Monday or Friday so a balance of time in the buildings could be provided for all students, he said.

Under the plan, the district would move to 100% face-to-face instruction on Sept. 21 if the protocols put in place are working well, Wise said.

The draft plan was presented July 13 to the school board.

On the next day, Wise said, the district began seeking input from staff and parents and the feedback will be used to produce a final version of the plan that is expected to be shared on July 31.

"We believe the best learning environment for our students is 100% face-to-face," he said. "We have to get to 100% face-to-face in a responsible way and stay there (if possible)."

That is a major reason why the district is likely to opt for a model for the first few weeks of school where students experience a mix of being in their building and remote learning, Wise said.

"That would give us a period of time to see how it's going, to see if there's any flare up (of the COVID-19 coronavirus) and if there are any procedures or protocols that need to be put into place and to have a firm handle of where we are," he said.

The fluid nature of the coronavirus means there is a "real possibility" the district may have to shift its plans at any given time throughout the school year, Wise said.

A change in the learning model might be needed districtwide or at individual buildings only, he said.

All staff members and students in grades K-12 will be required to wear masks for face coverings while in school buildings, Wise said.

Classroom breaks will be offered for students in grades K-2, and students in grades 3-6 will be offered a break from wearing masks when possible during outdoor activities, he said.

Students will be required to wear a mask at all times when riding school buses, Wise said.

"There's no practical way we can provide transportation to students with reducing numbers on buses in any significant way," he said. "Social distancing on buses is not feasible."

Students will ride to and from school two to a seat, so the masks will be mandatory, Wise said. Three children from the same family may be able to share a seat.

The group division at each school would not be tied to last names and would not be an exact 50/50 split at every building, Stewart said. Students from the same families would attend school on the same days across the district.

A number of protocols would be put in place to ensure student and staff safety in the buildings, he said.

That includes placing hand sanitizers and disinfectants in every classroom, Stewart said.

Most lunches will have "a grab-n-go feel to them," he said. Students will be handed either a tray or package of food, so they will not be selecting food items or milk cartons themselves.

Families will be asked to take their children's temperatures before sending them off to school each morning, Stewart said.

As students arrive at school each day, they will be asked some questions including whether they took their temperature at home, whether they are experiencing any symptoms of illness and if they have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, he said.

As of July 16, the Ohio High School Athletic Association still was planning to begin sports practices Aug. 1 and preparing to hold a full season.

The high school marching bands are planning for a season and are expected to begin holding practices during the latter part of July, he said.

Overnight field trips will not be held until at least Nov. 30, and the number of day field trips will be reduced, Stewart said.

South-Western will offer a 100% virtual-learning academy for families who are not comfortable about sending their children to school because of COVID-19, Wise said.

Registration for the program began July 20 and will continue through Aug. 7 on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.

"We believe we will be able to serve the majority of families" interested in participating in the virtual-learning academy, Wise said.

A cap will be determined at a later date after the level of participation and staffing availability is determined, he said.

The district will partner with the Jefferson County Educational Service Center to offer the program for high school students, Wise said.

South-Western staff members will supplement that program.

The online program for K-8 students will be staffed entirely by South-Western teachers using curriculum and digital tools currently available in the district, he said. Teachers assigned to the virtual-learning academy will work only in the online program and will not be doing classroom teaching, Wise said.

Families who sign up for the online program will be asked to commit for the entire school year, he said.

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