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Board approves plan for eventual return to in-person instruction

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At its most recent regular meeting, held virtually Thursday, Dec. 10, the Yellow Springs school board approved a plan for the district’s second semester, which starts Jan. 19, to begin transitioning students back to the classroom for in-person instruction — when, and if, certain criteria related to community spread of the novel coronavirus are met.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Yellow Springs instruction has been conducted online since the school year began in late August, though a limited number of students follow their online lessons in the school setting in small supervised groupings called Safe Centers for Online Learning. 

The new plan introduces a hybrid learning approach in which students will combine in-person classes with online lessons. Those students who do not feel comfortable returning will be given the option to enroll in the Greene County Online Collaborative, through which their instruction will be provided by an outside party.

In doing so, the district will join other Greene County districts in moving away from an all-online model with local teachers. Until the recent COVID surge prompted some county districts to temporarily re-implement remote learning, Yellow Springs had been the only Greene County district to continue online while the other six returned earlier this fall to full, five-days-a-week, in-person instruction.

A full return is the eventual target for Yellow Springs as well, Superintendent Terri Holden told the board Thursday.

“Our goal is to get kids back in the buildings in a safe manner five days a week,” she said.

But that day is unknown and likely distant. And while the transition plan introducing a hybrid instructional model ostensibly goes into effect Jan. 19, Holden said she does not anticipate students back in their classrooms then or any time soon.

The criteria allowing for a partial return involve a variety of factors — detailed in a 20-page “blueprint” presented to the board Thursday. 

“There’s no way we would be in person,” if conditions are the same as they are now, Holden said.

Once the criteria for a partial return are met, a variety of safety protocols will be put in place, Holden said.

Among those:

The student population at both district campuses — Mills Lawn and McKinney Middle/YSHS — will be divided into two groups, A and B, which will occupy their buildings on separate days. Each group will attend in-person classes two days a week, with other instruction presented online. No students will be in their classrooms on Wednesdays, when the buildings will receive deep cleanings, but the Safe Centers for Online Learning, or SCOL, will remain in place; and the district will try to assign siblings to the same group letter.

At Mills Lawn, in-person class sessions will take place in the mornings. There will be no recess or in-school lunch, though bagged lunches will be provided to take home. When group A is in school, group B will complete assigned work without teacher instruction, and vice versa. Both groups will sign in together for morning meeting every day as well as online instruction on Wednesday mornings an every afternoon except Wednesday, when students will be expected to work on their own.

At the middle/high school, students will attend all day, with group A going in on Mondays and Thursdays and group B present on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each group will be responsible for completing asynchronous work (without a teacher) on the days they are home. Lunch will be available at designated times by grade groups. Locker use will not be allowed.

Holden said that daily symptom and temperature checks will be performed before anyone enters the buildings, as is currently done for staff and SCOL students. According to the “blueprint,” which has been posted on the district’s website, mask wearing will continue to be required for all, and classroom furniture will be arranged so that students maintain a distance of six feet from one another. Students will be encouraged to wash their hands frequently, and towel dispensers are being replaced with no-touch models. Hand sanitizing stations have also been placed throughout the buildings, and water fountains will be off limits except where they’ve been replaced with water-bottle fillers. In addition, restrooms will be cleaned at least every two hours, classroom windows will be cracked open, and air purifier units have been installed in each room.

As for transportation, students and their families will be encouraged to provide their own transportation, but bus service will be offered for those who need it. According to the blueprint, seating will be assigned and masks will be required. Windows will be opened “when possible and safe,” and hand sanitizer will be available on each bus.

If a student or staff person is exposed to a case of COVID-19 or test positive for the disease, Holden said the district will follow the most conservative guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, the Ohio Department of Health and the Greene County health department regarding quarantining recommendations and possible school closures.

For more details about the district’s plan, see this week’s print edition of the YS News.

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