Hilliard City Schools outlines plan for return to classrooms

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
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No lockers.

No field trips.

No visitors or volunteers in school buildings.

Mandatory facial coverings for all teachers and some students.

That’s how different schools likely will look Aug. 20 when the district’s approximately 17,000 students return to classes, either in person or online because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Hilliard Superintendent John Marschhausen said he would ask the school board July 27 to approve his plan, which is subject to change as local and state health officials react to the ever-shifting status of the contagion.

Marschhausen outlined the plan during a public Zoom session with about 1,500 viewers July 7 and again two days later at the July 9 school board meeting.

He said the district’s three scenarios for how students will learn this year are based on four guiding principles: following the decisions of national, state and local health officials; prioritizing coronavirus-safety concerns over educational issues; ensuring equity and access for all students; and considering finances and resources.

The district’s three scenarios – the All In plan, a hybrid model in which students attend classes on alternating days and eLearning 2.0 – are tied to levels 1 to 4 on the public-health-advisory scale presented by Gov. Mike DeWine on July 2.

“If school started today, we would be in a hybrid model ... but we are six weeks out,” said Marschhausen, who also challenged community members to wear masks and practice social distancing to upgrade Franklin County from its Level 3 rating at the time to a Level 2, which would allow the district to use its All In plan.

“We don’t want to be here,” Marschhausen said. “It is not our goal or aspiration (to use the hybrid plan), but we have to be prepared.”

If Franklin County is at Level 1 or 2 on the state scale, the district will use the All In plan in which students will attend classes in person but with mitigation procedures, Marschhausen said.

Those include social distancing of 3 feet at school and parents being required to assess student health each day, he said.

The district determined that attempting to perform temperature checks at school each day would create a crowding scenario counterproductive to distancing, Marschhausen said.

No visitors or volunteers will be permitted in school buildings, and students will not use lockers or go on field trips during the 2020-21 school year, he said.

“I don’t know what Friday night football will look like ... but it won’t be like last year,” Marschhausen said.

While at school, teachers will be required to wear face masks or face shields, he said.

Students in grades 7 to 12 will be required to wear face masks inside buildings, he said. Students may bring masks or use ones provided by the district.

Students in grades K to 6 generally will be required to wear masks, but guidelines will allow for breaks when younger students would be able to remove masks, Marschhausen said.

The district will have an appeals process in place by Aug. 1 that will allow parents or guardians to provide medical or psychological reasons why a student should not wear a mask, Marschhausen said. District nurses will consider the appeals.

Joe Mazzola, the health commissioner for Franklin County Public Health, offered more information on mask guidelines July 9, saying the health department recommends that “as many students (as possible) wear masks for as long as possible.”

Still, officials recognize the difficulty in asking students in kindergarten to second grade to wear masks at all times, Mazzola said.

He said young students could remove masks while seated in classrooms but should wear masks while in hallways.

Students in third to sixth grades should wear masks most of the day, with some breaks, while those in the seventh grade and above should wear masks at almost all times, Mazzola said.

When asked about the odds of Franklin County achieving a Level 2 on the state scale by Aug. 20, Mazzola replied it was “not out of the question,” but it would be “a heavy lift.”

“There’s no playbook for this,” he said. “We are learning new things about this virus every day.”

“Can we get (Level 2)? It will take every resident and organization to take all the appropriate steps.”

If Franklin County remains at Level 3, a hybrid plan will be used starting in August.

In the hybrid plan, 6 feet of distancing will be required and half the number of students will be permitted in a school building at one time, Marschhausen said.

Although a policy is not final, it is likely students with last names beginning with letters from the A to the middle of the alphabet would be in Group A and the remainder in Group B, he said. Students in the same family but with different last names would be placed in the same group.

If Franklin County is at Level 4, remote learning will be used.

If the district must use eLearning 2.0, it will be a “more structured approach” than the eLearning process the district used after DeWine announced school closures in mid-March, Marschhausen said.

“Our teachers built the plane while flying it,” Marschhausen said about the scramble in the spring to create an online virtual curriculum.

The new name of eLearning 2.0 reflects that it is “more rigorous and robust than this past spring’s eLearning,” said Stacie Raterman, director of communications for the district.

In addition, the use of eLearning 2.0 could be limited to a single class or a single building based on circumstances, and a hybrid or All In model could continue at other school buildings, Marschhausen said.

Although changes to the district’s three scenarios would be probable during the school year, Marschhausen said, he does not expect Franklin County’s virus rating on the state scale to change quickly, so the scenarios are not expected to change from one day to the next.

The district also will have one other option for families interested in remote learning: the Hilliard Schools Online Academy.

The online academy, which has an elementary curriculum being created in collaboration with the Lakota Local School District in suburban Cincinnati, is designed to provide a Hilliard education to students who choose not to return to classrooms, even if conditions allow for traditional instruction, Raterman said.

The online academy is an opt-in program, and families who want to use the program must register by July 24, Marschhausen said.

After registration is closed, the district will assign teachers to the online academy, with preference given to educators who might be at a greater health risk, he said.

Although he did not seek board approval July 9, Marschhausen asked board members whether the administration “was moving in the right direction” by building a plan that likely could change before it is presented to the board for formal approval July 27.

Board member Lisa Whiting called the plan “thoughtful” and “in line with” the county and state health departments.

“It is most definitely in the right direction,” Whiting said.

Marschhausen called the circumstances facing the district “unprecedented” and said leaders must be “creative and flexible” to meet the challenges of COVID-19.

Although not everyone will agree, the district’s goal is to be transparent and explain how and why decisions are made, he said.

“The goal is to be one community,” Marschhausen said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo