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Jan
15
2021
Village Schools

YS Schools— Board OKs hybrid transition plan

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Yellow Springs school district leaders are making plans for students to return to in-person classes, but exactly when that will be is uncertain.

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

The conditions are spelled out in a 20-page transition “blueprint” presented to the board by Superintendent Terri Holden. Current case numbers, upward or downward accumulative trends and the county’s color-coded rating are among the criteria to be assessed weekly beginning next month.

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, or SCOL. In early November, an additional set of invited students also began going into the schools on Wednesdays for in-person tutoring and other personal supports, while all core instruction remained online.

The new plan, driven by COVID case conditions, introduces a hybrid learning approach in which students will combine in-person classes with online lessons. Students who do not feel comfortable about 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. The enrollment deadline is the first week in January, before the second semester begins.

In transitioning to a hybrid model, 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 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.

What’s needed to return

The transition plan was developed by a working group of 10 administrators and staff, specifically Holden, building principals Jack Hatert and Michelle Person, Head of Operations Jeff Eyrich, Head of Maintenance Craig Carter, co-presidents of the teachers union Kate Lohmeyer and Sarah Amin, school board member Sylvia Ellison, school nurse Tina Bujenovic and instructional aide Karla Horvath.

They set a rubric of indicators for deciding whether to remain 100% online, pursue the hybrid model, or eventually, going 100% in-person. And they divided the indicators into five categories:

• The county’s current color-coded rating, determined weekly by the Ohio Department of Health.

• The county’s current case numbers

• The rising or falling trends in overall numbers

• The proportion of cases that are not in congregate settings

• Two-week case trends in zip codes where Yellow Springs students live — 45387 (the Yellow Springs area), 45385, (the Xenia area), 45323, (the Enon area) and 45503, 45504 and 45505 ( the Springfield area)

Where local conditions fall within the five indicator categories will determine the instructional approach. Three of the five indicators within a category must be met.

For online, the five possible indicators are: a county color code of purple or red, a case rate over 100 or more per 100,000 people, an increasing number of cases over five days within the three prior weeks, over 50% of cases outside a congregate setting, and an upward case trend of 100 cases per 100,000 people in the district-affiliated zip codes.

For hybrid, the indicators are: a county color code of red or orange, a case rate near 100 per 100,000 people, no increases in cases over five days within the three prior weeks, less than 50% of cases are outside a congregate setting, and there is a downward case trend between 50 and 99 cases per 100,000 people in the district-affiliated zip codes.

For 100% in-person, the indicators are: a county color code of orange or yellow, a case rate less than 100 per 100,000 people, no increases in cases over five days within the three prior weeks, less than 50% of cases are outside a congregate setting, and a downward case trend of fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people in the district-affiliated zip codes.

“If the conditions are the same as they are now, there’s no way that we will be in-person on Jan. 19,” Holden said.

Last Thursday, all five of the indicators for 100% online instruction were present, Holden told the board, showing a spreadsheet that will serve as a model for the form to be posted before the start of the second semester. She said the exact look of the form was still being determined, but it would give a view of each of the categories and where the district stood.

The county currently has a red rating, case totals are rising and current cases here and in nearby counties are in the multiple hundreds per 100,000 people. Greene County reported 928.7 cases per 100,000 in the two weeks ending on Dec. 13. The county was last  under 100 cases per capita on Sept. 10.

Describing the basic rubric as a “decision-making tree,” Holden said the district’s weekly determination will be based on science and data. She also conceded that the process will be “clunky,” but asserted that the data “is easily available” on the ODH’s website.

The determination, for now between online and hybrid, will be made each Thursday afternoon, after the state releases the latest color ratings, and then posted on the district website by 4 p.m., according to Holden.

Implementing a return

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

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. The buildings will get a deep cleaning on Wednesdays. The Safe Centers for Online Learning, or SCOL, will remain in place throughout, but there will be no SCOL or Wednesday tutoring for the week school resumes after winter break.

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 and 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 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 symptoms and temperature checks will be performed before anyone enters the buildings, as is currently done for staff and SCOL students. According to the 20-page “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.

Students at both schools will be assigned an entry and dismissal door, and procedures for restroom use and occupancy will be established.

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.

Board member TJ Turner wondered about the efficiency and effectiveness of deciding week to week about the instructional approach.

“A lot can happen in a week,” he said. “Seven days is half of a quarantine.”

Holden said that the structure doesn’t discount the possibility of quarantining or moving from hybrid back online should circumstances require it.

“We have to allow some flexibility for that,” she said.

Sylvia Ellison, who served on the transition working group, said group members discussed such scenarios.

“But it would be difficult to fully enumerate [all the possibilities] in this written plan,” she said.

Board member Steve McQueen expressed concern about setting Jan. 19 as the start date for the transition plan, especially when COVID cases have been surging in recent weeks.

“How married are you to the date?” he asked Holden.

The superintendent said the date is less important than the data. At the same time, it’s important, she said, to have a plan in place for returning when the data indicates that conditions are safe.

“Things are fluid, and I need to present something to students and families and staff,” about what to expect, she said. “We’ve taken a conservative approach [so far], and I expect that to continue.”

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