New Albany-Plain Local leaders now plan to start school Aug. 31

SARAH SOLE
ssole@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

The New Albany-Plain Local School District has pushed its start date back from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31, and it will use a hybrid model to begin in-person classes, according to district leaders during an Aug. 3 school board meeting.

The Aug. 31 start date and hybrid model, in which two groups of students rotate attending classes in school buildings and remotely, were recommended by the New Albany COVID-19 Joint Task Force.

The district previously had planned to start school Aug. 24 in a staggered-start schedule designed to help students and families practice the different types of learning scenarios that could be required based on the state of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

From Aug. 24 through 27, two groups of students had been expected to switch every other day learning in the classroom to practice the hybrid model. All students were to practice virtual learning at home Aug. 28, and in-person learning was to begin for all students Aug. 31.

Those in the virtual-learning program were to begin learning at home Aug. 24. That program now begins Aug. 31, as well, Superintendent Michael Sawyers said.

Board members also voted 5-0 to approve a policy recommended by the task force in which all students in grades K to 12 will wear masks during school.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced a state order Tuesday, Aug. 4, that required masks to be worn by the same age groups.

During the Aug. 3 meeting, board members heard from task force member Dr. Stephen Canowitz, a physician for Canyon Medical Center, which is part of Central Ohio Primary Care.

Canowitz said the flu is harder on children than COVID-19, and students need to return to school buildings for their mental well-being. In addition, COVID-19 is not as bad in New Albany as it is in other parts of Franklin County, he said.

“We cannot react and make decisions based on headlines,” he said.

Franklin County Public Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola told board members that because district reopenings are not governed by state decisions, health leaders wanted to offer guidance to inform the conversation.

“Certainly, there’s no easy answers here,” he said.

Health officials are concerned about community spread, and because of that, they have told districts to consider opening in a remote setting, Mazzola said. Risk from COVID-19 still exists for children, he said, as well as the risk of transmission to those who are more at risk for health complications from the disease.

Still, Mazzola said, nothing prohibits the district from opening as they had been planning to. He said the district reopening plan is reasonable.

The board also heard from union representatives.

Lora Hartley, bus driver and president of OAPSE, the union for classified staff members in the district, said she encourages the board to open school buildings safely to safeguard as many jobs as possible for classified staff members.

However, Joe Armpriester, president of PLEA, the union for teachers in the district, said given the current pandemic dangers, reopening in person would pose a risk for those at school and students’ caretakers at home.

He urged the school board to adhere to Franklin County Public Health guidelines related to beginning the school year online.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah