Grandview Heights Schools will face challenges when all-in classes resume

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Grandview Heights Shools custodian Franklin Bright sanitizes rows of lockers after classes ended for the day at Grandview Heights High School on Feb. 24. The district is expected to return to a full-time, all-in schedule March 15.

When Grandview Heights Schools students return to traditional all-day in-person learning March 15, it will mean students and teachers no longer will face the challenges presented by the hybrid or remote models used for the past year.

But it doesn't mean the end of challenges.

The size of most classrooms in the district's three school buildings will make it next to impossible to fully achieve the desired COVID-19 6-foot distancing, Superintendent Andy Culp said.

"Our goal is to get to 3 feet distancing, but there will be circumstances throughout our K-12 learning experiences where that goal is not going to be able to be realized for every single student in every single classroom," he said.

And the all-in return likely will increase "the plausibility of a greater number of quarantines," Culp said. "That's just the reality of an all-in return."

More:Grandview Heights Schools notebook: Many factors determined all-in return to classes

As part of the discussion at the Feb. 22 virtual school board meeting, Culp and the district's three principals reviewed the challenges the all-in return to school will bring.

The board voted 4-1 to set March 15 as the day students will return to school full time. 

Board member Molly Wassmuth cast the dissenting vote, saying she would feel more comfortable waiting until March 29.

Grandview has been operating under a hybrid model, with students attending school every day either in the morning or afternoon. 

No lunches have been served on campus during the hybrid model, but that will change with the all-in return, Culp said.

All students grades K-12 will have the option of going home for lunch to help reduce the number of students who stay at school for their meal break, he said. Schools will serve grab-and-go meals at lunchtime. 

Each principal was asked to determine how 6-foot distancing would be provided for students who will have to take off their masks while eating lunch.

Grandview Heights High School has plenty of space for students who stay at school for lunch, principal Rob Brown said.

The school cafeteria will hold about 22 students with 6-foot distancing, he said. 

If more than 22 students stay at school, "we have a full high school gym where we can spread kids out and make sure they will be 6 feet apart," Brown said.

Although the high school's overall in-person enrollment is low at 352 students, so is the classroom space, which will be challenging, he said.

During most periods of the day, students attending class in 16 or 17 of the high school's 22 classrooms will sit less than 3 feet from a classmate, Brown said. 

In some classrooms, students might sit 2 feet or less from a classmate, but in most of those cases, students will sit that close to only one other student, he said.

Most high school classrooms have tables, not desks, Brown said.

Students' close proximity to each other could result more students having to quarantine, he said. That would be especially problematic in April, when state testing occurs.

A majority of Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School's 26 classrooms also have tables rather than desks, principal Quint Gage said. Five classrooms have desks, and five others have a mix of tables and desks.

The school's grade 4-6 hallways have larger classrooms than the grade 7-8 hallways, Gage said.

"Where we have desks in grades 4-6 classrooms, we can probably maintain 6 feet in a lot of different spaces," he said. 

But in most cases with tables, even in the larger classrooms, multiple students will sit at the tables and will be less than 3 feet apart, Gage said.

The school plans to have three separate 20-minute lunch periods, he said.

The EILMS cafeteria will have 18 tables measuring about 12 feet in length, Gage said. 

The school expects to be able to feed about 66 students per lunch period and maintain 6 feet of distance between students, assuming about half of the building's 400 students go home for lunch, he said. 

Grandview Heights Schools custodian Steve Nash sanitizes office tables after classes ended for the day at Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School on Feb. 24.

If more students stay for lunch, the gym, classrooms and library will be available to handle the overflow, Gage said.

The ongoing construction of a new grade 4-8 building adjacent to the current EILMS building has reduced the available space on the playground, he said.

Students will not be able to have daily recess periods, Gage said. The playground will have to be allocated to classes on a rotating basis, so students likely will be able to go outside for recess only one day a week.

On the other days, they will stay in their classrooms and engage in studying, games or other activities for their after-lunch break, he said.

Stevenson Elementary School will have 17 to 22 students in each classroom once all-in school returns, principal Angie Ullum said.

In some classes, students might sit 2 feet or less from classmates, depending on whether the classroom has tables or desks and the size of the classroom, she said.

The school's cafeteria is small, so Stevenson will have four lunch periods each day, Ullum said. With a plan to purchase folding chairs with tray tables, about 50 students will be accommodated in the cafeteria during each lunch period.

Other students will be able to eat lunch and maintain 6 feet distance in the gym, library and hallways, she said.

Recess periods are held on the playground at Pierce Field, which is across the street from Stevenson.

Each class will be assigned a specific play area during recess in an attempt to help provide easier contract tracing if needed, Ullum said.

But it will be almost impossible to ensure students maintain proper distance as they cross the street, and children's enthusiasm also will make it difficult to keep them properly distanced during their play, she said.

Before the board voted on the return to school, several residents voiced their opinion, with a mix of views provided.

Elizabeth Root said she thought the district should wait a while longer before an all-in return to school to make sure the COVID rates continue to decline.

"The current mitigation measures we have in place (in Grandview's schools) have been absolutely key in controlling the spread of COVID in our buildings," she said. "I am concerned the decision to go all-in will mean cutting back on those measures when we need to be even more diligent to ensure the safety of our children in what will be a more risky environment."

Jon Conlon took a contrary view.

Although Grandview teachers deserve praise for the job they've done during a difficult time, it is well past time for students to return to school full time, Conlon said.

"A full year of half school at best is a huge disservice to our children's learning," he said. "At this point, my children's future is affected. When their education is threatened, action must be taken.

"Let the teachers teach. Let the children learn," Conlon said. "Do not hide behind the false idol of complete safety. Life is risky."

Grandview Heights High School senior Stephanie Kramer said she does not feel comfortable returning to all-in classes.

For her and other students, Advanced Placement and performing-arts classes are not available in the Florida Virtual School option the district has available as an alternative to all-in school, so the only choice will be to return to school "in an uncomfortable environment," she said.

Not every student and family are taking COVID-19 seriously, Kramer said. 

"Not every student is wiping down seats. Not everyone is wearing their mask properly," she said. "I do not feel comfortable with an increase in people and a decrease of personal space when easy and simple precautions are not currently taking place – when an increase in those precautions is actually necessary."

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