Bexley school board institutes distance learning until Sept. 18

CHRIS BOURNEA
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In a 3-2 vote during its Aug. 4 regular meeting, the Bexley City Schools Board of Education approved a resolution to support a back-to-school plan that includes full distance learning for students from the start of school Aug. 24 through Sept. 18.

At that time, the district plans to assess whether to continue distance learning or begin transitioning to a hybrid model of online instruction and in-person classes if Franklin County Public Health data indicates a continued decrease in COVID-19 cases from late July, Superintendent Kimberly Pietsch Miller said.

"We will assess activities on an individual and an ongoing basis," she said.

Miller said the 25-member Bexley City Schools Reopening Task Force, made up of district administrators and community representatives, updated the back-to-school plan Aug. 3. The board also held a special meeting July 30 to discuss implementing distance learning for the first quarter that runs through Oct. 15.

After evaluating Franklin County Public Health's updated data released July 31, Miller said, the task force updated the back-to-school plan.

The updated plan includes three learning models for students: full distance learning, a hybrid model and an "all-in" model with full in-person classes.

Miller said all phases of the plan allow teachers to meet in person with small groups of students who have individual-learning challenges.

"When data and guidance from Franklin County Public Health indicate that Bexley City Schools can transition to a different plan, and that would be with at least four weeks of downward trending (of COVID-19 cases) before making a shift," Miller said. "Rather than committing to a whole quarter, we're looking at that trend data."

On Sept. 18, if conditions and guidance from Franklin County Pubic Health support a shift to the hybrid-learning plan, a three-week transition to the hybrid model would begin the week of Sept. 28, Miller said. The transition plan would allow for small groups of students, approximately 25% of each district school's student body, to attend per day, allowing students to learn and acclimate to new risk-mitigation protocols, such as wearing masks and observing one-way directions in hallways.

On Aug. 4 , the board initially voted 3-2 to approve a resolution supporting the back-to-school plan, with board President Marlee Snowdon and members Michelle Mineo and Victoria Powers voting for the plan and John Barno and Alissha Mitchell voting against the plan.

Barno said he opposes full distance learning and believes the district should implement the hybrid online/in-person model right away because Franklin County Public Health's data shows declining coronavirus infection rates.

"I think we should be going hybrid. I think we have the capability to do this," he said. "I'm not a medical expert, but I can look at data and what the trends are, especially for Bexley and the very, very low level of community transmission."

Mitchell said she supports a hybrid model and opposed an aspect of the original distance-learning plan that allowed teachers to use their own discretion about reporting to school buildings or working from home.

"There isn't a reason for the teachers not to be in the building," Mitchell said. "I ideally would prefer a hybrid plan because I think it's so needed right now. We have so many students that were already struggling, and the inequities are still there and have only increased, and we have not been able to fully resolve all of the challenges."

After the initial vote, board members revised the resolution to approve the back-to-school plan with the caveat that teachers are required to report to school buildings during distance learning. The revised version also passed with a 3-2 vote, with Mineo and Powers casting the dissenting votes. Mineo and Powers said they believe the plan includes accountability measures for teachers, and teachers should be given leeway to devise their own instruction methods.

"I'm really in favor of encouraging teachers to come into the building when they can help our students on a one-on-one or two-on-one or three-on-one basis or find ways to make that occur," Powers said. "I know that teachers are including social-emotional learning in their daily plans."

"I want our staff to be where they think they're going to be most effective," Mineo said. "If that's in the classroom, some of them are going to feel that way. Some of them have cool ideas that they can do from or their backyard. Everything's an opportunity."

Snowdon said reopening school is a complex process that requires "a precarious balancing act."

"On the one side, we can weigh the benefits of returning to our buildings that would provide mental-health benefits and arguably stronger teaching and learning through in-person teaching, human connection and child-care concerns being addressed," she said.

"Those benefits, however, must be weighed against the very real concerns about spreading the virus, fears of returning to our buildings and subjecting our students and our staff to the health risks, both known and unknown of COVID-19."

For information about the plan, go to bexleyschools.org.

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