South-Western City School District returning to 100% in-person learning April 5

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group

South-Western City School District students will transition from the blended-learning model to full in-person classes when they return from spring break April 5.

Under the blended model, students attended a full day of school two days a week and engaged in online learning activities and assignments at home the other three days. Wednesdays were set aside for a deep cleaning of each school with no students present.

Bill Wise

"The data has shown a significant decrease in case counts and positivity rates in the district over the last six weeks," Superintendent Bill Wise said. "We're seeing the best levels we've seen since September."

As of March 23, the latest data showed an average of less than 0.06% of students and staff with confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the previous four weeks, he said.

Updated guidelines regarding quarantines issued earlier this month by the Ohio Department of Health, as well as the number of staff members, were factors in the decision, he said. 

"We are confident that we can go all-in safely and that the layered safety and health protocols that are in place in schools will limit the transmission of the virus," Wise said.

Another factor that led to the decision to return to full-time in-person learning is that more people in the community are getting vaccinated, he said.

Teachers and classified staff who chose to receive vaccinations completed the second round of the shots in late February.

Staff members are not required to tell the district whether they received the vaccinations, Wise said, but a survey of district employees indicated that about 83% of them, including teachers and classified staff, intended to get the vaccination.

"Waiting until after spring break (to return to all-in classes), we wanted to see if we could sustain the community's downward trend of cases and have time for more people to be able to get vaccinated," he said.

When school resumes April 5, students and staff will be required to continue to follow safety protocols by wearing masks throughout the day, including on school buses, using hand-sanitizing stations, maintaining social distance and sitting in their assigned seats, Wise said.

The district has purchased plexiglass dividers that will be used in school buildings to provide additional protection when social distancing is decreased, he said. Some schools will use the dividers in classrooms, and others might use them in their cafeterias.

About 2,400 students are enrolled in the Virtual Learning Academy the district has offered this school year, and they will remain in the online program through the end of the school year, Wise said.

South-Western's total enrollment for 2020-21 is about 21,073 students, he said.

Having about 11% of the district's students remaining at home and engaged in online learning will help ease the transition to all-in school, Wise said.

Buildings will maintain the one-way hallways and stairways to the extent possible to reduce foot traffic when students are transitioning from one class to another, he said.

Some schools might opt to stagger the times that students leave classrooms or the cafeteria during lunch periods to help reduce the number of students in hallways, Wise said.

When necessary, schools will provide additional seating for lunch periods, with some students eating lunch in the gymnasium or classrooms, he said.

On school buses, seating will be limited to two students per seat, and students will be required to wear masks while on the bus, Wise said.

South-Western will continue to follow the guidelines set by the Ohio High School Athletic Association and by the Ohio Department of Health for extracurricular activities, including sports, he said. Those guidelines currently include occupancy rates of 25% of capacity for indoor events and 30% for outdoor events.

The district's high schools will hold graduation ceremonies "that are closer to normal" June 5, Wise said.

"Students are going to be able to gather together as a class and wear their cap and gowns," he aid.

The ceremonies will be held this year in the football stadiums at either Grove City High School or Central Crossing High School, Wise said.

"Those are the larger outdoor venues we have, and that will allow students to be able to have more family members attend their graduation," he said.

The class of 2020 received diplomas in drive-thru graduation experiences May 23, 2020 at each high school site.

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