ROCKSPRINGS — Students in Meigs Local School District will “return to school” on Sept. 8, although details on exactly what that will look like are still being considered.
The Meigs Local Board of Education met with Meigs County Health Commissioner Marc Barr during Tuesday evening’s regular meeting, discussing the return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supt. Scot Gheen explained that a survey would be going out on Wednesday night via the district’s all-call system and would be available on the district website also beginning on Wednesday night asking parents to answer a few questions related to the return to school.
The survey will include two options for return to school — a blended in-school and virtual option and a full virtual option.
“There is no scenario I can see where we go five days a week given the current guidance and limitations,” said Gheen. “We can’t do it in a safe enough way as of now.”
While a full return to school is not feasible for the beginning of the school year as things stand currently, Gheen said things can change quickly.
“If things change we are always going to be flexible to what we can do to best meet the needs of our kids and the community,” said Gheen.
Barr stated that when looking at the COVID-19 numbers to see where things stand in the area it is best to look at the surrounding counties as well and take an average as numbers in Meigs County are limited at this time as there is limited testing in the county. He stated he has contacted the state about the possibility of pop-up testing sites. He added that to gauge a better picture of where things stand with the trends of the state data, look at the daily increase of hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths compared to the 21-day average to see if things are increasing or declining.
Among the concerns noted by Barr was the limited medical facilities in the area should there be an outbreak.
“Without a vaccine, face coverings and social distancing are really the only ammunition you have,” said Barr as to ways to combat the spread of the virus.
Gheen noted that one of the main areas of concern is transporting students to and from school. The district transports around 63 percent of its students on buses each day. Gheen said there has not been much guidance on how to protect kids on the buses where spacing is an issue. Requiring masks on buses would likely have to be a board policy, but that would necessitate adding a person to the buses to insure distancing and mask wearing so that the drivers can focus on driving and not the masks or distancing.
Additionally, should schools have in-person classes, each building would be required to have a “quarantine room” for a student who would show any symptoms which could be COVID-19. Gheen stated that this area would need to be separate from the area where other kids who are not feeling well, but not showing COVID-19 symptoms, would go during the school day. He also expressed concern over the stigma that would be placed on a student who is sent to the quarantine room, whether or not they end up having COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, Gheen said he has only received a few calls from families inquiring about the upcoming school year, with the majority concerned about the risks of returning to school and asking if they should homeschool their children.
The district has made the decision to move back the start of the school year to Sept. 8, the Tuesday after Labor Day, in order to allow additional time to monitor the coronavirus situation, given summer events and vacations. Moving the start to after Labor Day would keep the district within the required hours set by the state. Additionally, the time between the original start date and the new date would be used for professional development days for staff members to receive training and prepare for the upcoming school year.
“The problem is there is no right answer,” stated board member Heather Hawley.
While the district, along with others in the state, did virtual learning for the end of the 2019-20 school year, Gheen said this year would look different as they have time to plan and prepare.
The district already utilizes the Schoology program which allows for course work to be loaded on to devices to be accessed both online or offline by students.
Gheen explained that the district has enough devices between Chromebooks and iPads that it could provide each student in the district with a device preloaded with the material to begin the school year. This would help to eliminate some of the challenges that come with students not having internet access or devices available.
Additional assignments could be loaded or provided during meal pickup or during the days in which the students are in the classroom. Gheen said that paper options may also be provided through the tote system which was used in the spring.
Should school be virtual, meal distribution would continue as it had at the end of the school year and throughout the summer.
Gheen stated that meetings have been taking place among the superintendents in the county, along with the health department, in order to help plan for the upcoming school year. District level meetings are also taking place with administrators, as well as union representatives in order to receive input from everyone involved.
Over the next two weeks the district will be looking at survey results, as well as results of surveys given to staff members and feedback received before hopefully making a decision at the next board meeting on July 29.
Although a decision could be made at that time, Gheen said that given the unpredictable situation changes could still be made leading up to the start of the school year.
As for fall sports, Gheen said that the district will follow the decisions made by the OHSAA and Governor on moving forward. Summer workouts have been taking place within the district and are expected to continue, with the official practices permitted to begin Aug. 1.
The board approved setting aside $100,000 for COVID-19 related expenses, in addition to the funding of approximately $127,000 which was approved earlier this week by the State Controlling Board for the district.
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Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.