UPDATED: Westerville City Schools students will start 2020-21 '100% remote'

MARLA K. KUHLMAN
mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

Westerville City Schools has announced that all students will start the 2020-21 school year with virtual learning, and participation in any fall athletics competitions is being delayed until further notice.

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

“A conversation yesterday with area health officials and other central Ohio superintendents confirmed that, while not ideal, this is the appropriate course of action to follow if our region hopes to contain and decrease the spread of COVID-19,” 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 COVID-19 cases in our region 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.”

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

“We have been advised that schools could consider offering blended learning with in-person instruction only when there is at least a sustained positive trend in the data health officials are monitoring,” Kellogg said. “By opening under a fully remote learning plan, our district is contributing toward their strategy to sustain and quicken this decline toward more acceptable numbers.”

Given the change, he said, the district is extending families’ ability to enroll in the Westerville Virtual Academy until 4:30 p.m. Friday, July 31.

Families who previously enrolled their student(s) in the academy also will be able to remove them until 4:30 p.m. Friday, July 31, by following detailed instructions they soon receive via email.

If a family already enrolled in the WVA opts to disenroll, the opportunity to re-enroll in the academy would not occur until the second semester, according to Kellogg.

Students who aren’t enrolled in the WVA 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 Thursday, July 30, the district again will restrict community use of district facilities and return to “Phase 1 Standards” for high school and middle school athletics, marching band and other student activities.

Under Phase 1 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, with no access to gyms or weight rooms, with the only exception being girls volleyball having access to the gymnasium. Participation in any fall athletics competitions will be delayed until conditions improve.

“We realize this is not the news some of our families hoped to hear, but given this latest information and guidance from health officials, we must do our part as a school community to contribute to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our region,” Kellogg said. “We will continue working with health officials and support their efforts to achieve sustained improvement in the data they are monitoring.”

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla

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Westerville school officials moving forward with blended-learning restart model

Westerville City Schools students are scheduled to begin in-person classes and receive instruction using an alternating "A Week/B Week" blended learning model on Aug. 24.

The school board July 20 approved the delayed start to give teachers and staff time to prepare, and the district can provide a safe return to school during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, said John Kellogg, superintendent.

The first day of school originally was scheduled Aug. 13.

Board members agreed that given the circumstances of the coronavirus and the effect on the delivery of instruction, additional professional development and planning time are needed.

Even with the Aug. 24 start date using the blended model, all students will be required to participate in Remote Learning Days on Aug. 20 and 21.

On those two days, Kellogg said, students will receive important details about the upcoming school year, such as what to expect during blended learning and updates on procedures and how to get support when needed.

Under the alternating "A Week/B Week" schedule, half of Westerville's students will begin attending school in person Aug. 24, and the other half will be on remote instruction for the week.

The second group of students would begin in-class instruction Aug. 31.

The district also is offering the Westerville Virtual Academy as a yearlong option for families who prefer 100% virtual instruction for their students in grades K-12.

The academy will feature online learning platforms, Calvert Learning/Edmentum for grades K-5 and Apex Learning for grades 6-12. Students can access courses instead of working virtually on a frequent basis directly with a classroom teacher. Westerville teachers will remotely monitor student progress, be available to answer questions and grade student assessments.

Families who opt for the academy will be committed to the virtual platform for at least the first semester of the 202-021 school year, according to Kellogg

The virtual academy begins Sept. 1.

Nancy Nestor-Baker, a school board member, said the district is committed to making the blended and remote learning models be as effective as they can be.

Safety measures

Per board policy and guidelines, all students -- from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade -- will be required to wear face coverings when in halls and common areas, as well as when distancing by space and/or partitioned areas is not possible. Some exceptions apply.

Scott Dorne, executive director of facilities and operations, said staff and students are encouraged to bring their own face coverings to school, but the district will have masks available for those who do not have them.

Between each school bus run and between lunch periods, he said, all tables and "touch points" will be cleaned and sanitized.

"Every classroom will have sanitizer available for use," Dorne said. "We will have supplies and materials available everywhere. We're going to have an abundance of things for adults to use throughout the day. We're increasing our cleaning and sanitizing throughout the schools."

Kellogg said this is an area where everyone will be encouraged to work as a school community.

"This is a place where we can all pay a little more attention," he said. "We're a community of people working together. We have to be thoughtful and helpful to each other."

Vaughn Bell, board vice president, asked what the district is doing to ensure safety of teachers and staff in the classroom, as well as students.

Kellogg noted the mask policy and said there would be built-in "mask breaks" based on information about exposure from the health departments in Delaware and Franklin counties.

He said social distancing would be practiced.

"We will have facial shields," he said. "We want students to see teachers' smiling faces. Those are things we're doing."

Dorne said any student would be able to opt in for food services no matter what instructional model in which they're enrolled.

"Anyone in the blended model who wants food (the week they're receiving distance learning) will have to opt in," he said. "It will involve parents picking up food. Our buses and food services will be serving (students) face to face."

Monitoring data

In designing the district's Responsible ReStart Plan, Kellogg said, district leaders have based their decisions on the COVID-19 Health and Prevention Guide for Ohio K-12 Schools, which was provided by Gov. Mike DeWine and is based on advice from the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Education.

The district also looked to the Planning Guide for Ohio Schools and Districts, which the ODE published. It provides information related to school operations and the coronavirus.

The Responsible ReStart Plan also took into consideration input from staff, students and family from a variety of data sources, Kellogg said.

Kellogg said 250 emails from the public were weighed in making the decision.

"Thanks to the community for their patience and to our staff who has been patient and thoughtful to inform our decisions," he said. "This is a challenging time and, frankly, it's difficult to find a solution that will satisfy everyone."

Tiyi Morris, parent of children in the Westerville schools and an assistant professor at the Ohio State University-Newark, started a petition, chng.it/qZrX2wgG, on the morning of July 23, asking Kellogg and the school board to begin school exclusively online, with teachers delivering the content.

"This would allow all the teachers an opportunity to interact with their students virtually while providing students an opportunity to meet with their peers. This would also alleviate the burden of teachers doing twice the work they would normally do for few students."

Morris said the safest and most sound decision at this moment is to open schools completely online and to push back the start date to after Labor Day.

The petition had received 469 signatures as of 2 p.m. July 27.

"We continue to monitor the data and talk to county health department officials. Our plan includes a fully remote model that we can transition to at any time," Kellogg said.

Details of the plan can be found at wcsoh.org/backtoschool.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla