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SOLSD School Board sets reopening for Sept. 8

The Switzerland of Ohio Local School District plans to welcome students back to school in person on Sept. 8, so long as the district stays “yellow.”

A divided school board voted to begin the 2020-2021 year with all students attending school in-person on a regular weekly schedule Thursday, July 30 at a special board meeting.

The board voted unanimously in support of the delayed start date. District teachers would report to school one week earlier than their usual start date. The delay will give teachers time to organize and collaborate on their teaching plans for the school year, especially in preparation for remote learning.

District faculty and most of the parents surveyed supported the delayed start date. Superintendent Rob Caldwell confirmed that most buildings should not have trouble meeting the state’s required days of instruction. If an unusually large number of snow days is necessary, however, makeup days may have to be added.

The board also agreed on 100 percent remote instruction should the district experience very high or severe coronavirus exposure and spread. As Plan C, it corresponded with the county becoming red or purple on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System map for COVID-19.

Setting the criteria for Plans A and B led to a lengthy discussion among the board members. The district’s academic committee, which included faculty, board members and local industry partners, offered their highly recommended choices.

Plan A referred to 100 percent in-person instruction. The board was given the option of designating Plan A to be used when the county was “green,” meaning no public health emergency exists, or when the county was “green and yellow.” The committee’s highly recommended choice was the first option, meaning that the schools would not return to full in-person instruction until the coronavirus emergency has ended.

Plan B was a hybrid learning model, with students learning in school part of the time, and having remote instruction the rest of the time. The highly recommended choice was to use Plan B when the district is “yellow or orange” on the state’s COVID-19 map.

Board President Sarah Smith noted that River and Woodsfield Elementary schools might not have enough space for students to social distance in the classrooms. The district may need to use mobile classrooms or alternative locations.

Two competing perspectives within the board became apparent as the discussion developed.

Board Member Greg Schumacher was disinclined to switch back and forth between learning models during the school year. Consistency was important for keeping students’ education on track, he said.

Schumacher proposed designating Plan A as “yellow,” since no county is currently green. He felt that in-person instruction is best for students.

“Five days in on yellow – go for it,” Schumacher argued that remote learning had been tough on students this spring.

“You get the kids in,” Schumacher explained. “They get to meet their teachers, and they get their Chromebooks. They get the first few weeks in or whatever. If we go for a month or two months, great. To me, that’s the simplest, most effective way.”

Board Member Bev Anderson pointed out that some schools do not have the space for students to social distance with 100 percent attendance.

“I think you take that (social distancing) out of the equation,” Schumacher responded. “You’re taking it upon yourself. They can wear a mask if they choose to, they can go virtual if they choose to. That’s it. You tell the public that’s what it is on yellow. We hit orange; then it’s hybrid.”

When asked about families who would not be comfortable with that option, Schumacher and Board Member Jerry Gust agreed that remote or virtual learning is still an option. The district is exploring ways to increase internet access for student households that do not have adequate connectivity.

In response, Smith and Anderson were concerned that students would have to wear masks all day long, even when working independently at their desks. Anderson also noted that more students might opt for virtual or remote learning, which might not be the best learning situation for them.

One other concern was that 27 percent of district faculty and staff said in a survey that they would not be comfortable returning to 100 percent in-person learning. Although that does not indicate how many would refuse to come back, Brill noted that the state is currently facing a substitute teacher shortage.

Failing to reach a consensus position, the board shifted to using the majority vote to set the terms for reopening the schools.

Schumacher, Gust, and Board Member Ron Winkler voted to designate Plan A, 100 percent in-person learning, as “green and yellow.” Smith and Anderson voted no.

Schumacher, Gust, and Winkler voted to designate Plan B, the hybrid learning model, as “orange,” Again, Smith and Anderson voted no.

To summarize, Switzerland of Ohio schools will start with 100 percent in-person learning on Sept. 8, provided Monroe County is “yellow.” Instruction will shift to a hybrid in-person/remote model if the county becomes “orange,” or to 100 percent remote learning if it becomes “red or purple.”

In other business during the special meeting, the board approved the hiring of April Pardon as Beallsville campus assistant principal and Dr. Animesh Chakraborty as the math instructor at Swiss Hills.