Reynoldsburg schools: Later start date part of Responsible Restart Plan

KELLEY YOUMAN
editorial@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

CLARIFICATION: Reynoldsburg City Schools is missing 228 of the 3,000 Chromebooks that were distributed in the spring. The value of those missing Chromebooks is $190,000. An earlier version of this story did not indicate that the $190,000 was the value of the missing tablets.

Masks, “hybrid” learning, enhanced cleaning and a later start date are among the changes to the 2020-21 school year approved July 21 by the Reynoldsburg Board of Education.

In a four-hour-long meeting streamed online on the district’s web page, the board unanimously approved Reynoldsburg’s Responsible Restart Plan. Also approved were a mask mandate and remote-learning guidelines.

The district has amended its academic calendar, pushing back the traditional staggered start beginning Aug. 24 to Sept. 8 when all students will start.

The plan is being rolled out amid the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Reynoldsburg will operate under the “all-in” model if Franklin County is at Level 1 or 2 on the state’s four-level virus-rating scale. The hybrid model kicks in at Level 3, indicating those living in the county have a very high risk of exposure and spread of the virus, according to a news release from Gov. Mike DeWine’s office. Although portions of Fairfield and Licking counties are in the district, Franklin County’s alerts are cited in the district plan.

The three approaches approved by the board:

*(Level 1 or 2) All-in: All students attend in-school classes, with enhanced cleaning and safety protocols;

*(Level 3) Hybrid: Students with last names beginning with letters A-K attend in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays; those with last names beginning with L-Z attend on Thursdays and Fridays; online and remote learning would supplement the other days;

*(Level 4) Fully remote: The district will move to an “all-digital” option in the event Franklin County moves to a Level 4.

Parents and guardians also have the option to enroll their children in the Reynoldsburg Virtual Academy, a fulltime online option.

Applications for the Reynoldsburg Virtual Academy are expected to be released Monday, Aug. 3, and will be available at reyn.org/COVID19Updates.aspx.

As of July 22, Franklin, Fairfield and Licking counties all were at Level 3.

District operations will be guided by the recommendations of public-health authorities and Franklin County’s status on the Ohio Department of Health virus-rating scale.

The district, an entire building or an individual class may be subject to quarantine, the district said.

“Factors such as positive COVID tests and absenteeism will be used” when making decisions about attendance models, Superintendent Melvin Brown said.

Under the all-in or hybrid models, there will be no field trips, shared supplies or use of lockers. Large gatherings of students, visitors and volunteers will be prohibited and breakfast will be served “grab and go” style, with students eating in classrooms, according to the plan.

Athletics and extracurriculars would be suspended if the district moves to fully remote, according to the plan.

There is no choice between the all-in and hybrid models, according to the plan, a 12-page PDF released July 21, meaning parents or guardians must opt for the virtual academy or abide by the district’s decision if either the all-in or hybrid model is used.

Regardless of how students attend class, the new school year will start with a healthy dose of sacrifice, board President Debbie Dunlap said.

“Everyone has different situations in their life and students that they are concerned about,” Dunlap said. “We’re asking everyone to make sacrifices, and everyone is going to have to make some sacrifices. That is the only way that this is going to be successful.”

Masks required for students, staff

Both the all-in and hybrid models mandate the use of face coverings for all students and staff in common areas and on buses.

Staff and students in grades 7-12 will be required to wear face coverings most of the time; requirements are less strict at the elementary level, according to policy approved July 21.

Parents are responsible for providing a “cloth mask or face shield,” although the district also will make them available.

District nurses will handle mask appeals made by parents. The mask-waiver request will be available online beginning Saturday, Aug. 1.

Parents will be responsible for monitoring their children’s health, and clinic space will be set aside at each building for students who become symptomatic while at school.

Students will be required to wear masks and socially distance at bus stops and buses will be cleaned and sanitized after each drop off. Bus riders and walkers will be dismissed at staggered times.

Board member Robert Barga voted in favor of the mask policy, despite speaking in his “individual capacity” at a July 7 Reynoldsburg City Council meeting and questioning a similar mandate that was approved.

Task force recommendations

Reynoldsburg developed its plan in conjunction with a 42-member task force of district employees, parents and community members who met in June and July, Brown said.

“We all want to return to a place of normalcy,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to launch some kind of hybrid model” but the district “can’t make those promises.”

The task force earlier this month solicited feedback from parents via a one-question online survey that presented four possible options:

1. Kindergarten through sixth grade attend school in-person every day with a full day of instruction. Grades 7-12 attend school online via remote learning with their teachers every day;

2. Kindergarten through sixth grade attend school in-person every day, with a half day of instruction, half day of structured activities. Grades 7-12 attend school online via remote learning with their teachers every day;

3. Half of the total student body attends school each day. Grades K-6 are on a AAA schedule (meaning Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays), grades 7-12 are on a BB schedule (meaning Thursdays, Fridays);

4. Use every other week for face-to-face instruction. Week 1 students K-6 attend, Week 2 students 7-12 attend. The alternating weeks, students attend school online via remote learning.

More than 2,000 responses were received, said Valerie Wunder, communications director.

Responses were fairly even, she said, with about 30% each responding in favor of options 1, 3 and 4 and about 9% favoring the second option.

Alicia Jackson said she selected the fourth option. She and her husband have a son in seventh grade at Hannah Ashton Middle School and a daughter who is a junior at the Reynoldsburg High School Livingston campus. Both are eager to return to school, she said.

When schools closed in March, “it was rough,” Jackson said. “We were very fortunate. Both of us have jobs, and my husband has been able to work from home.”

They did their best to get through until the end of the school year, she said.

“My son has an (Individual Education Program) plan. To get him to do work appropriately by himself is nearly impossible,” she said. “His teachers were great. It’s just that when you have someone who doesn’t have the attention span or capacity to educate themselves, how are they supposed to?”

Remote-learning details

The district’s Remote Learning Plan, also approved July 21, says lessons under the hybrid and fully remote models will be delivered online and “through thoughtful offline lessons that encourage students to explore the natural world and engage in interdisciplinary and artistic hands-on learning.”

According to the plan, student log-ins to online platforms will be tracked. Students will be expected to engage in face-to-face learning on assigned “at school” days and complete independent work on “at home” days, as assigned by teachers.

Reynoldsburg plans to provide internet access up to 100 yards away from the parking lots of some district buildings and 10 buses with Wi-Fi access are available for use in the event of a fully remote model.

Under the hybrid and remote models, all students will be given Chromebooks for school and home use.

In April, the district distributed nearly 3,000 Chromebooks and tablets, but is “currently missing 228 devices, and may need to purchase more advanced devices for … classes that require Adobe Suite,” according to the Remote Learning Plan.

The district estimates it’s spent about $190,000 on the missing tablets and “will be working with families individually to recapture them,” Wunder said. “We do not anticipate any intent to not return.”

Reynoldsburg has used some of the $1.2 million in anticipated funding from the CARES Act to buy PPE.

Passed in March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill.

The district purchased 40,000 pairs of disposable gloves and has hired additional custodial staff to perform nightly deep cleaning and disinfecting of common areas including restrooms, said Chris Reed, director of operations and services.

Desks have been ordered for several buildings to replace tables.

“We’re ready,” he said.

Jackson said she holds out hope for the all-in or hybrid models because her children are hoping to participate in the band.

“They need that peer interaction, and the teachers too, even if they don’t like them, they need that interaction,” Jackson said. “To be fully online this coming year is definitely not something that I think is going to be OK. My kids are accustomed to the masks, we wear them everywhere we go. There has to be some kind of hybrid environment. … It’s really hard to learn an instrument online by yourself.”

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