Questions remain as Bishop Watterson leaders brace for new year

STEPHEN BORGNA
sborgna@thisweeknews.com
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With the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-21 academic year due to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Bishop Watterson High School leaders are considering multiple questions and policies for when students return to class in the fall.

Watterson principal Chris Campbell said the school is considering blended learning policies for the new year and hopes to welcome students back to the high school building in some capacity in a few weeks.

School is scheduled to start Aug. 31 at Watterson, 99 E. Cooke Road, after being pushed back from an initial start date of Aug. 20.

"Our goal is to have kids be here as much as possible," Campbell said. "We think it's important for them (to be here) for lots of reasons -- not just academically, but socially, emotionally, spiritually. To be online eight hours a day, every day, does not seem like a good idea."

However, officials expect challenges ahead as Watterson aims to balance educational requirements while also prioritizing health policies for the student body and faculty.

As of July 6, Campbell said, back-to-school plans hadn't been finalized.

A blended-learning approach is a possibility, though.

That would bring students into the building on alternating days throughout the week, based on the first letter of their last names. For example, students with last names starting with A-L would attend on Mondays.

"That's one model we certainly have for blended learning; that's one of the models we're looking at," Campbell said. "We're still toying with that plan and seeing if it's possible to bring everybody on campus. ... It would still be blended learning though; they still couldn't all be in the classroom at the same time if they're telling us we would have to maintain 6-foot distancing. It's just physically not possible."

Before school begins, officials said they'll need to address a variety of questions pertaining to what happens when a student or faculty member tests positive for COVID-19.

"Who has to be isolated? What happens if a student tests positive? How long do they have to stay home?" Campbell said. "We will still have to have some kind of way for them to stay engaged in school while they're home if they have to stay home. So those are the questions that we're going to need answers to."

Campbell said the school plans to have hand-sanitizer stations throughout the building, with janitorial staff deep-cleaning the facilities at night. Cleaning classrooms and desks during the day is another issue, with one proposal suggesting students and teachers sanitize learning areas after each class period.

Campbell said he doesn't foresee Watterson having the ability to check the temperatures of every student and faculty member who comes into the building each day. He said he plans to advise students and faculty to avoid coming in if they're displaying symptoms of any kind or feeling unwell.

Wearing masks will be expected of both students and faculty. Gov. Mike DeWine announced July 7 that face masks are required to be worn in public in all counties that have been designated under a Red Alert Level 3 Public Health Emergency. As of July 9, Franklin was among those counties.

"The way it looks, I think they're probably going to have to wear masks, kids and faculty," Campbell said.

Watterson officials have been discussing back-to-school plans since May and hope to have a finalized plan in place by the end of July, he said.

With some form of blended and distance learning in store for schools throughout the nation for the foreseeable future, Watterson dean of girls and calculus teacher Heather Law said this style of learning presents its challenges.

"It was definitely more challenging (this spring) -- more just the everyday, routine stuff that we do in the classroom," Law said. "Just kind of judging where the students' knowledge is rather than just looking at homework or a piece of paper. It was more difficult to gauge how well they're understanding the material when it's all online."

Law said one way faculty can improve distance learning is through more digital office hours and one-on-one instruction with students.

"We're going to have to really work on managing that between all of the teachers and all of the classes, almost having actual class time for each student, I think," she said.

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