Despite a delay of guidance from Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health, Superintendent Lynn Campbell said that the Orange City School District is exploring multiple options for returning to school this fall.
There are no definite plans yet because district officials are waiting on state guidelines. Gov. DeWine was supposed to announce plans for schools on June 23, then it was delayed to June 30. The governor said earlier this week that the guidelines would come today.
“There’s so little guidance right now for schools,” Dr. Campbell said at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, where 94 people joined the Zoom call.
He said that a group of more than 60 stakeholders from the district met on June 17 to discuss reopening options. The members of the working group include parents, school board members, teaching staff, union leadership and administrators.
Dr. Campbell said that there are four main areas to study: health and safety logistics, educational considerations, social and emotional health and operational considerations. This includes everything from personal protective equipment to busing. Between nine and 12 students can fit in a classroom with 6 feet between each person. The superintendent said that district officials are not clear yet on transportation guidelines but are expecting that 11-12 students could ride a bus at once.
“I wish I had more answers and details, but please know that we’re exploring all the same things as all the other districts around us,” Dr. Campbell said.
As Dr. Campbell shared his report, the chat feature on Zoom filled up with messages from community members watching the meeting with questions and suggestions. Board members Melanie Weltman and Jeff Leikin emphasized the importance of keeping the community engaged.
Ms. Weltman said that throughout her tenure on the school board, she has never had so many people call her and approach her in the community with questions, even those who do not have school-age children. Two key items that the district needs to decide on and share as soon as possible, she said, are a start date for school and what the schedule would look like. The district is discussing having students alternate between coming to school mornings and afternoons or coming to school several full days and staying home the rest of the week.
“I’m hopeful that we can get a couple things to parents sooner rather than later, one being a date certain for the start of school,” Ms. Weltman said. “They need to plan.”
Dr. Campbell said that schedules could vary depending on the age of the children and whether they have special needs. Mr. Leikin said that he wants to gather more input from parents to see what questions and concerns they have. As more parents gave feedback during the Zoom meeting, Mr. Leikin asked if the school website could have a chat feature too so parents could share their thoughts.
Director of Communications Lou DeVincentis said that he will look into such a feature for the website. The phone number and email address of every board member is also currently available on orangeschools.org.
“I’d like to get a better gauge of what people are thinking and what their concerns are so that if possible, we can address those where necessary,” Mr. Leikin said.
Board member Deborah Kamat said that the district will need to offer several options this fall because community members have strong differing opinions. Some have advised her that it would not be safe to have classes in person, while others have told her that the children must have classes in person because the parents cannot work from home.
“I have a feeling that we will need every single one of those options,” Mrs. Kamat said.
Board Vice President Rebecca Boyle said that there are three stakeholders when making plans for reopening: students, parents and staff. The plans must allow everyone to remain safe and healthy, she said. Board President Beth Wilson-Fish said that the district should be flexible so it can switch to remote learning if necessary.
“The ultimate plan is to have the capacity at the drop of a hat to go totally remote if there is a spike incident within our school district, within a classroom, within a hallway, whatever that might be,” she said.
The next school board meeting is on July 13 at 6 p.m. via Zoom.