Westerville City School District students will start the 2020-21 school year with virtual learning.

Superintendent John Kellogg announced July 29 that district officials decided to open the 2020-21 school year in a “100% remote” instructional model rather than the blended-learning model originally announced.

Given the latest information and guidance from health officials, he said, the district must do its part as a school community to contribute to slowing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“We will continue working with health officials and support their efforts to achieve sustained improvement in the data they are monitoring,” Kellogg said.

“Our hope is that conditions will continue to improve accordingly so we can soon offer a blended-learning environment and eventually return to a traditional school experience for students.”

Kellogg said the district would give families ample notice if and when the opportunities become possible.

Health officials said schools could consider offering blended learning with in-person instruction only when there is at least a sustained positive trend in the data they are monitoring, and only if the county also is at a Level 3 or better on the state’s Public Health Advisory Alert System, Kellogg said.

During a meeting with school superintendents on July 28, public health officials recommended Franklin County school districts begin instruction this fall with all remote learning due to the spread of the coronavirus in the community, high positivity rates in testing and the overall number of new cases. Joe Mazzola, director of Franklin County Public Health, said he was concerned about central Ohio coronavirus trends.

As one of the largest school systems in the state and region, Kellogg said, Westerville wants to support public health officials and their efforts to get coronavirus numbers trending in the right direction.

Westerville joins other central Ohio school districts starting classes all virtually this fall, including Columbus City Schools, Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools, the South-Western City School District and Whitehall City Schools.

“By opening under a fully remote learning plan, our district is contributing toward their (health officials’) strategy to sustain and quicken this decline toward more acceptable numbers,” Kellogg said.

Though there was a recent short-term improvement to some key data being monitored, according to Franklin County Public Health and Columbus Public Health, the confirmed rate of coronavirus cases in central Ohio over the last four to six weeks, as well as the ratio of daily cases compared to the total population, continue to trend upward and remain concerning to them, Kellogg said.

He said the district intends to follow the health officials’ recommendation that schools should not reopen under any model that provides in-person instruction but open under a remote-learning model.

Given the change, the district extended families’ ability to enroll in the Westerville Virtual Academy until July 31, and families who previously enrolled in the academy were able to be removed, Kellogg said.

If a family already enrolled in the virtual academy chose to cancel enrollment, the opportunity to re-enroll in the academy would not occur until the second semester, according to Kellogg.

The academy features online learning platforms where students access and complete their courses instead of working virtually on a frequent basis directly with a classroom teacher.

Westerville teachers will remotely provide oversight in monitoring student progress, be available to answer questions and grade student assessments, according to the school website at westerville.k12.oh.us.

Students who aren’t enrolled in the academy will start in a 100% virtual model but may move to a blended model of in-person instruction and virtual learning sometime during the semester should conditions allow.

Kellogg said beginning July 30, the district restricted community use of district facilities and returned to “Phase 1 Standards” for high school and middle school athletics, marching band and other student activities.

Under those standards, participants will work in groups of 10 or fewer but only for skills training and conditioning.

Kellogg said programs would be required to train outdoors, without access to gyms or weight rooms, with the only exception being girls volleyball having access to the gymnasium.

“We realize this is not the news some of our families hoped to hear,” Kellogg said. “We will continue working with health officials and support their efforts to achieve sustained improvement in the data they are monitoring.”