By Linda Dillman
What is the simple answer to the question of when Canal Winchester students will return to a five-day, in-school learning model?
There is none.
The Canal Winchester Board of Education, administrators, and teachers spent the better part of an hour at the board’s Oct. 19 meeting discussing the classroom future of district students amid a pandemic.
Prior to the discussion, Paul Markoff, the parent of a fifth and eighth grader in the school system, said the current format, either online or hybrid, is failing.
Markoff said his children’s grades have dropped, but equally concerning to him is that they are not being taught in person over 60 percent of the week.
“They have online learning Monday-Wednesday and attend school on Thursday and Friday,” said Markoff. “My fifth grader, when she’s home…the amount of work from Monday-Wednesday ranges from two to four hours. That does not seem to be a sufficient amount of work to be educated. Sometimes there’s difficulty with the instructions they receive online to complete their assignments and I don’t think that is the teacher’s fault at all.”
Markoff said there are other risks associated with, greater than, and having more of an impact on students than keeping them home, such as psychological and emotional risks he alleges can lead to depression and anxiety.
“Kids need to interact with each other,” said Markoff. “This can be devastating from a mental health and social aspect. I don’t think we’re empowering all students for success. I think right now, the risks of returning them to school are so minor to the rewards they’ll reap in returning to the classroom.”
Board member Mike Yonnotti said everyone wants to have kids full time in school, but the risk versus the reward is something the board and district must take into consideration.
“It’s not a war of who’s right and who’s wrong,” said Board President Matt Krueger. “We’re put in a very difficult position. We’re trying to assess what’s good for our community. We’re constantly reviewing the numbers and then, there’s a spike.”
Board member Kevin Butler said the board has to take into consideration the staff and the number of people they come in contact with, along with being cognizant that spikes do not happen just in the local community.
“We have to take into account what’s going on around us as well,” said Butler. “Anytime we have feedback from the community, it helps us as a board as well.”
Superintendent James Sotlar said the health department should be a guiding voice for districts as they move forward.
“We’re not the health experts. They are,” Sotlar said, “and that (consulting with health experts) is something I have been doing every week since March with my central Ohio superintendent’s group, the Franklin County Board of Health, Columbus Health Department and the Ohio Department of Health to see what’s going on in the area around us.”
According to Sotlar, prior to the most recent spike in coronavirus positive cases where local numbers within the school district boundaries hit 80 per 100,000 people, Canal Winchester was at a rate of 50 cases.
“Which, I think, correlates to the county back in the red level at this time,” said Sotlar. “One of the biggest concerns in going back full time, is social distancing goes out the door.”
Other considerations include teachers that need to quarantine, difficulty in obtaining substitute teachers, large-scale quarantines in the event there is a COVID-19 diagnosis during full-time operations and the right time to bring students back to school.
Sotlar conducted discussions with administrators about returning to a five-day school schedule and preparing for the situation, which will happen eventually, whether it is next month, second semester or sometime next year. For the time being, the current models are getting a facelift.
“We’re going to make some changes and do things a little differently with hybrid and CWOLA,” said Sotlar. “Hopefully to make it a better learning experience for all kids. I’ve heard there’s not enough work and there’s too much work.”