Grandview Heights Schools eyeing potential pathway to full in-person classes

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group

Declining COVID-19 numbers and the vaccination of most of the district's teachers and staff could provide Grandview Heights Schools with a pathway to returning to a traditional in-person schedule.

The school board has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Feb. 22 to continue its discussion of the district's COVID-19 learning model.

Superintendent Andy Culp said he might be able to recommend at that time that students return to 100% in-person learning in March.

Andy Culp

The district currently is using a hybrid model in which students attend school in-person every day either in the morning or afternoon and engage in remote learning activities at home during the rest of the day.

Most districts in central Ohio use a hybrid model in which students attend school all-day only two or three days a week and spend the other days learning remotely.

More:Grandview Heights Schools' distance learning expected to end Jan. 11

More:Grandview Heights Schools in 2021: Facilities project, pandemic concerns to carry on

A number of factors make on or around March 15 as the earliest "logical" date for an all-in return to in-person learning, he said.

Culp reviewed at the Feb. 10 school board meeting the updated COVID-19 data for the district and the details of what a return to traditional classes would involve.

The updated data on the district's COVID-19 dashboard "is all really, really good news," Culp said.

As of Feb. 10, the district had only two positive COVID-19 cases among students and eight students who are quarantining, he said. No positive cases and no quarantining were reported among staff members.

The positivity rate had "dropped significantly" over the past three weeks and stood at 8.1% on Feb. 10, down from 9.6% the previous week, Culp said.

The case rate in Franklin County was at 414 per 100,000 population, down from 550 two weeks earlier, he said.

District staff have completed a first round of vaccinations, with the employees slated to receive the second and final vaccination Feb. 23-27, Culp said.

About 90% of district staff will be vaccinated by Feb. 27, "which will be a huge mitigation of our staff," he said.

"The research around the benefits of students being in school full time socially, emotionally, behaviorally and academically are clear and is something the board of education has indicated is a priority and has discussed many times," Culp said.

District officials have been discussing an all-in return to school based on the decline in COVID-19 numbers and the vaccination of staff members, he said.

The State Board of Education on Feb. 10 released a declaration of support for a return to a traditional school model in the state, Culp said.

The key factors Grandview is using to determine when a return should occur include student and staff safety, whether the district is seeing a linked spread of cases in the school setting and whether school could operate as normal given the level of quarantining, he said.

No linked spread has been found, and the quarantine numbers have declined significantly, Culp said. 

The last vaccinations to staff members will be administered Feb. 27, he said. Given that it takes a minimum of 14 days to realize the full benefits of the vaccine, the first day of all students returning to school full time would be March 15, Culp said.

Grandview's fourth quarter of school begins March 11, and March 15 is only one week before spring break, which is scheduled for March 22-26, he said.

That might make it worth considering the pros and cons of delaying the all-in return until March 29, Culp said.

When Grandview returns to a traditional classroom setting, it will not be able to maintain the recommended 3 to 6 feet of social distancing in almost all classrooms, he said. Students in most classrooms will sit 1 to 3 feet apart.

Students will be required to wear masks throughout the day, with mask breaks offered when possible, Culp said. 

Other protocols, including using acrylic plastic like Plexiglas, requiring frequent hand sanitizing and washing and keeping students in their classroom pods for recess, will be maintained, he said. 

Unlike most districts, Grandview's morning and afternoon hybrid model has meant students have not been eating lunch in their buildings, Culp said.

He said he is asking each building principal to develop a plan for safely serving meals after an all-in return to school.

The principals have indicated they will be able to maintain 6 feet of distancing during lunch periods by using all available spaces, including classrooms, gyms and cafeterias, Culp said.

The board has given Culp the authority to determine when Grandview should switch from one learning model to another as COVID-19 conditions warrant while consulting with and getting feedback from the board to help determine a decision, board president Jesse Truett said.

Board members agreed Feb. 10 that the district should return to the traditional learning model no earlier than March 15. But they also agreed more data is needed before they could support an all-in return.

"There's a desire on everyone's part to get students back all in" as soon as possible, Culp said. 

Typically, time for public comment is not provided during special meetings, Truett said.

Given the importance of the issue that will be discussed at the Feb. 22 special meeting, the board will provide time for community members to give their opinions, he said.

Residents will be able to watch the meeting live via the district's YouTube channel and sign up ahead of time to participate in the meeting, Truett said.

Two residents participated in the Feb. 10 meeting and said it was time for Grandview students to return to their classrooms full time.

Adam Smith and Brandon Strong both spoke before Culp gave his presentation and offered the potential timeline for an all-in return.

His concern, and the concern of many other parents, is that the school board has shown "a lack of adaptability and flexibility" and has demonstrated "an inability to be bold and lead," Smith said.

"Many of us call what you call a 'hybrid' (model) 'half-school,'" he said.

The hybrid model provides only three hours a day of in-person instruction, accompanied by homeschooling by parents, Smith said.

Other districts already have put a plan in place to return to full-time in-person learning, he said.

 "What are we waiting for? We have a low number of students. We have the space," Smith said. "Where is our plan?"

District officials have said the safety and security of students are the top priorities, he said.

"Where does education fit in," Smith said. "No. 2? No. 3?"

Strong said he has supported the district's decisions about using hybrid or remote model until now.

When the board was considering last summer the best way to start the school year, a lot less was known about the COVID-19 virus and its potential impact on school-age children, he said.

The virus can be and has been deadly, but "we need to change our risk calculus," Strong said.

"Have we reached the point where the academic, social and emotional risk to our children continuing in hybrid is greater than the risk of them going to school full time?" he said.

That could occur if a return to regular school doesn't start before the end of the academic year, Strong said.

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