Update: Worthington district leaders 'want kids back in school'

GARY SEMAN JR.
gseman@thisweeknews.com
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Officials with Worthington Schools are working on a back-to-school plan that works much like a stoplight: Green says go, yellow urges caution and red means stop.

Angie Adrean, chief academic officer for the district, said educators are in full preparation mode for the school year, scheduled to start Aug. 19.

Adrean said it has been a delicate balancing act, trying to ensure safety for students and faculty and promote a productive learning experience during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“We want kids back in school,” she said. “That’s what’s best for kids, not just learning, but their social-emotional learning.”

The system will work like this: Green is a full return to school buildings with safety precautions in place; yellow is a hybrid scenario in which students would return to classes on alternating weekly schedules as safety protocols are followed; and red is a return to full remote learning with upgraded learning capabilities, Adrean said.

The color-coded system could apply to the whole district or a specific building, depending on variables at the time, according to district spokeswoman Vicki Gnezda.

If the type of learning environment had to change during the school year, it would take effect the next week, she said.

As for the conditions that would dictate which part of the red/yellow/green system would go into effect, district leaders will work with Columbus Public Health to assist in evaluating those decisions, according to Gnezda.

The district’s current plan is for yellow, but the situation could change by the start of the school year based on updated COVID-19 cases and new state-government restrictions or loosening of restrictions, Adrean said.

During the yellow phase, the entire student body would not be in classrooms at the same time: Students would be divided into two equal-size groups, with the first half returning Mondays and Wednesdays and the other half attending Tuesdays and Thursdays and following that pattern throughout the foreseeable future, Adrean said. Fridays would alternate each week for the designated student populations, she said.

On their alternate days, students will be required to participate in remote-learning studies, she said.

Exceptions will be made for siblings to attend at the same time so parents can plan for child care and related issues, Adrean said.

Social-distancing guidelines will be enforced and masks will be part of the return to school buildings, she said.

All faculty members will be required to wear face masks, and students will be required to wear them on the bus, in the hallways and in the classrooms, Adrean said.

Parents will be asked to provide their children with masks and to take their temperature each morning; faculty members already have been doing that and are keeping a log, she said.

Some details of the plan still are being hashed out, Adrean said.

For example, students likely will eat at their desks, not in the cafeteria, she said.

It is unclear if or to what extent physical barriers, such as plastic panels, will be used in the school buildings, although panels have been installed in school offices, Adrean said.

“As far as our classrooms, because our students and teachers will be wearing masks, you might see less of those in the classroom,” she said.

Meanwhile, parents who want their children to continue full-time remote learning will be given that option, Adrean said.

The hope is to improve the experience by hiring an Ohio online service partner to conduct full remote-learning services with an educator from that company or possibly one from Worthington Schools, “but we’re not there yet,” she said.

The district will continue using age-appropriate remote-learning software for K-12 students that has been in place since children were sent home from school buildings in mid-March by a statewide order, Adrean said.

In addition, buses, classrooms and restrooms will be cleaned more frequently, she said.

“They’ll be on a schedule,” Adrean said. “Our teachers, all adults in the building, will have to help in that process.”

Gnezda said district leaders are doing everything they can to ease parents’ and students’ minds when school resumes.

“I think one item to keep in mind is that families will have a choice: Keeping them at home is one option and for those who feel that they want their kids to go back, strong safety measures will be in place,” she said.

ThisWeek editor Neil Thompson contributed to this story.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary