Northwestern Students, Friends, and Families:
Here is some info regarding re-starting the schools in August.
More information is supposed to be coming out from the Ohio Dept. of Education and the Governor’s office sometime next week.
First of all, we all hope we can start next school year traditionally. This still is our plan, if we are allowed!
Secondly, below is the basic structure of our Northwestern “contingency plan” based upon the anticipated state restrictions and recommendations coming from Governor DeWine's office, the Ohio Dept. of Education, and the State Health Dept. Don’t get stressed about this. It is simply for foreknowledge and so you know that we plan on 5-days per week return, but will have a contingency plan should we have these state requirements and have to therefore run 4 days.
We are very resistant to only running school two days next fall or online instruction as we had done last spring. Many schools are preparing for one of these two options. My feeling is that 4 is better than 2 - if we are required to follow these restrictions. In a nutshell “those two options of 2 days a week or totally online are not best for our kids and not best for families”. This is the early stages of our plan and we will work through this together. In the mean-time, I am open to questions and suggestions. I prefer e-mail if it is a lengthy question, as I may often repeat the same answer. However, as many in our community are aware a call on my cell works as well. I am often busy, but leave a message and I will call you back!
Schools are expected to be permitted to re-open with the following State and County Health Dept. anticipated restrictions:
1. Governor’s restrictions for next year will likely incl.:
• All students wash hands when entering a school bus
• All students temperature checked
• All staff temperature checked (or can self-check)
• Masks encouraged and recommended for all staff and students, but not mandated
• Restrict visitors into the buildings (visitors are recommended to wear masks)
• Handwashing stations in each classroom, at restrooms, offices, etc. (we have already added a lot, but have more to install)
• Max capacity for classrooms will be based on Square Footage. Each child is said to have a 3-foot bubble surrounding them – so 6ft distancing is the norm
• Education and reminders of social distancing, hygiene, etc. needs to be ongoing
• Much more, but these are the main restrictions/recommendations
2. The Major restriction for transportation is expected to be 1 student per seat, but if sibling or in same household can sit together (I was able to get that part added–in). Bus seats will have to be sanitized between routes. The possibility exists that we could have several students want educated from home or parents may step-up to help transport more students. The latter would help our transportation issues immensely! This transportation is the worst part of it, as it means we would likely need a second group of students being transported and arriving late, and therefore leaving later as well.
3. The major restriction in school buildings is that students sit 6-ft apart in each classroom unless there are separators between them if at tables (if sibling or in same household can sit together is possibly being inserted). This part will not help much as few siblings are in same grades. This will limit classroom sizes. This is our hugest obstacle other than transportation. We have measured many classrooms and principals and custodians will be finalizing this aspect this week. Many elementary classrooms can fit 19-21 students under these guidelines. Other buildings may be different and unique classrooms will surely be different as well.
4. No decision regarding preschool numbers being allowed yet from the state... However, the governor told me when I directly requested 14 as a minimum and hoped: to eliminate the restrictions of 9 children for “just preschool” that he would consider this or they may approve increasing to our historical 19 capacity per class. If we add a partition and table dividers we may get approval to continue with our 19 scheduled students in preschool classroom for the two classes. We have developed a proposal to approve running preschool that I am presenting to the Board of Education Monday evening – our ability to do so hinges upon three substantial financial contributions as well as slightly increasing parent tuition, and making a few other adjustments to ensure it will run cost-neutral.
Administratively we are working on our contingency plan of running school a possible 4 days a week with all students these 4 days, but in the schools we will need to spread the kids, use other staff, and use other spaces to make this work, as the restrictions from the state are based on square footage. We are also trying to figure a way we can run 5 days per week with this spread.
This means many changes if we have to go with the contingency plan involving time and schedule changes, and likely even some school calendar changes. We have been studying the possibilities and hope to hold more meetings in the next few weeks to study further. I anticipate Board of Education approval of a calendar change and a contingency plan at the July Board of Education meeting – both just in case they are required.
Based on this our 4 days per week contingency plan may be the best option - if we have to do it. They may loosen these restrictions if things go better this summer and the number of cases shrink. Most schools are looking at 2 days a week in school with half of their students and 2 days a week for the other half. That would be an absolute last resort, I believe, as it would not be best for our students or families or teachers.
Schools can start whenever they want – a local decision. Many will be waiting until after Labor Day. I believe we need to start as scheduled in Aug., but perhaps push it back just a few days to meet and work-out further school and transportation details, so we could well delay a few days - then start the school year with students. We will see how this plan develops by mid-July, when it will be formalized.
We all will have a lot to work through logistically. I hope, in this case, we are wasting our time with this contingency plan and that we can get back to some normalcy and regular schedule for our kids, in our schools, and for our community.
We all missed our kids in the schools and on the fields this spring.
Jeffrey N. Layton, Ed.D.
Northwestern Local Schools