School Notes: Upper Arlington Schools plotting course to ensure safe learning

PAUL IMHOFF
Paul Imhoff

Throughout the summer, our team has been working on different scenarios for how we would be starting the school year and the different learning models we may need during COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

We gathered feedback from families, students and staff members through surveys and focus groups about distance learning in the spring and plans for the fall -- totaling more than 12,000 touchpoints.

The feedback was used for our Responsible Restart plan. This plan offers families a choice of two pathways for their students this school year -- a school-based instruction model and the UA Online Academy, a 100% online, self-paced curriculum.

The school-based instruction model includes two options for learning, which may be implemented based on the guidance of health officials during the school year depending on the situation with the pandemic.

The hybrid-learning model is our in-person option, and enhanced distance learning -- a more robust version of the distance learning our students experienced in the spring -- is the other option.

In the hybrid model, students are divided into two groups based on last names, with about half of them attending Mondays, Tuesdays and some Wednesdays and the other half attending Thursdays, Fridays and some Wednesdays.

By having only 50% of our students in attendance each day, we are able to provide the required 6 feet of social distancing.

Based upon guidance from Franklin County Public Health that recently was shared with us, our students and teachers will begin the year in enhanced-distance learning.

The county health department has said we need to see a sustained decrease in the county's overall risk level for at least four weeks before students return to an in-person learning environment.

We will meet regularly with health officials, who will use the data available to offer guidance on when it is safe to switch to a hybrid-learning model.

Although we will miss out on our "first-day traditions," principals and teachers will be welcoming students in ways designed to create meaningful relationships within virtual classrooms. This will be an essential part of how we will continue to support the well-being of all students while they are learning at home.

Our plan is to remain in enhanced distance learning through at least Sept. 18.

This is a little different from some local districts, which have made the decision to do the full first quarter in distance learning.

We want to identify a date to help families and staff members plan ahead, but we also are hoping to have our students back in the building during the first nine weeks.

We will continue to meet with health officials and provide updates to staff members and families as to health officials' guidance on our county's overall risk level.

This is based upon what we know at this time. As the situation continues to change, it's likely our plans will have to change and adapt, too.

I invite everyone in our community to take some time to learn more about our Responsible Restart Plan on our website, uaschools.org/UARestart.aspx. We will continue to work closely with public health officials and to keep everyone updated on the latest information available.

Paul Imhoff is superintendent of Upper Arlington Schools. Follow him on Twitter at @imhoffpaul. His office provides this column to the ThisWeek Upper Arlington News.