Canal Winchester district prepares in-person, online learning plans

JACK McLAUGHLIN
lcochran@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

The Canal Winchester school district will offer both in-person and online learning for the 2020-21 school year -- but the format of in-person instruction will change according to health risks.

According to plans announced at an Aug. 5 school board meeting and available on the district's website, canalwinchesterschools.org, students had until Aug. 10, after ThisWeek's print deadline, to enroll in either an online learning track through the CW Online Learning Academy or a school-based track for the first semester. They must stay with that track for the entire semester but will have the option to switch tracks for the second semester.

With 87% of students reporting in by early August, 66% percent had opted for the school-based track and 33% chose to enroll in CWOLA, according to information from the district.

The school-based track has three possible learning levels:

* In-school instruction five days a week for all students except pre-schoolers, who would be in the buildings for four half-days each week.

* A hybrid model with students in school buildings for two days a week and receiving online instruction for three days a week.

* Remote learning for all students five days a week, if necessary.

The difference between remote learning and the online learning offered by the CWOLA is that the academy uses a fully online curriculum where students complete work at their own pace with weekly deadlines. Remote learning is designed to be closer to an in-person school day, with live lessons and video interactions.

The decision about which school-based learning level to follow to start the year will be made before the scheduled start of class on Sept. 2. Learning-level choices throughout the year will be based on "recommendations of local health professionals," according to the district website, which says school officials will continue to review and follow requirements from the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Franklin County Public Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola recommended Aug. 4 that all Franklin County schools begin the 2020 academic year remotely.

"Unfortunately, we cannot ignore the conditions in the community, including positivity rates above 10%," Mazzola said. "So our recommendation currently is to ask our schools to consider starting the school year in a remote fashion and discontinue the extracurricular activities until such time as those conditions improve."

FCPH has stated in order to change its recommendation, it would need to observe case positivity rates below 10%, improvement in the state risk-level assessment and a decline in the number of cases over a four-week period.

Superintendent James Sotlar said Canal Winchester school officials would remain in regular contact with FCPH to assess the situation and better prepare for safe instruction.

"We want that extra reassurance from our local health officials; we want to make sure our plan is suitable to open in the hybrid model if we have to go that route," Sotlar said.

District officials say they believe retaining some semblance of in-person learning is important because it is more effective for instruction and student socialization.

"From experience as a teacher, we know that students, in class, face-to-face, in seats, work better," board member Michael Yonnotti said, although he acknowledged the possible health risks posed by the in-person option.

Masks mandate

Everyone on school property will be required to wear face masks or shields, in accordance with an order announced Aug. 4 by Gov. Mike DeWine.

"From the time students get out of the car and onto school grounds, the masks have to come on," Sotlar said. "Some parents are not going to be happy with that. However, it is a mandate by the governor.

"We're currently working on incorporating outdoor mask breaks for kids, finding a safe way to do this. We know, even as an adult, it can be tough to wear a mask all day."

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