UPDATED: Whitehall City Schools opts for online-only learning in first quarter

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

Thanks to the still-raging COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, fall will be a carbon copy of spring in Whitehall City Schools.

The district, like many others across central Ohio and the state, will employ online learning only when classes in Whitehall resume Aug. 31.

Whitehall school board members July 30 approved the district’s back-to-school plan as recommended by Superintendent Brian Hamler.

On July 29, the district announced via its website that it will begin the 2020-21 school year “in a 100% remote model” Aug. 31.

Distance learning will continue until at least the end of the first quarter, Oct. 23, when district leaders will reassess the situation, Hamler said.

Whitehall’s announcement followed similar declarations made July 28 or 29 by Columbus City Schools, South-Western City Schools, Westerville City Schools and Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools, among others.

Ty Debevoise, director of marketing and communications for Whitehall schools, said the decision was made after a July 28 conference with Franklin County Public Health officials and other central Ohio public-school superintendents indicated that the contagion rate and number of positive COVID-19 cases were not ebbing in Franklin County.

Based on the level of reported spread of COVID-19, a proposed hybrid model in which the district’s 3,400 students alternated learning at home and in the five school buildings “was not conducive” to containing the virus, Debevoise said.

Hamler said he hopes students can return to the buildings during the school year.

“It is our hope and belief that conditions will improve, allowing us to move to a hybrid model at some point this school year," he said. "We will continue meeting weekly with local health officials to monitor trends in hopes that we see a continued decline in confirmed COVID cases and positivity rates.”

In an online statement, Hamler asked the community to take the necessary steps that could allow for the return of students to classrooms.

“I am pleading with our school community to protect yourself, your family and your neighbors by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and washing your hands often," he said.

“We are truly all in this together and our community’s response will determine how quickly we are able to return to the classroom.”

The plan approved July 30 by the board details how the district will operate after the first quarter.

It calls for all students to attend in-person classes if Franklin County is at a Level 1 on Gov. Mike DeWine’s Public Health Advisory Alert System; a hybrid plan if at Level 2; and remote learning if at Level 3 or 4, Debevoise said.

“The health department strongly recommended that schools start remotely, at least for the first quarter, so we will follow their recommendations,” board president Mike Adkins said. “We tried to get the kids back in the classroom, but the numbers are still just too high in Franklin County.”

Some Whitehall students will not return to classrooms this year under any conditions.

Whitehall schools offered the opportunity to register for an all-year-long online academy, with 430 students accepting the offer, Debevoise said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo