By Dedra Cordle
The South-Western City Schools District will be making the transition to a blended learning format sooner rather than later.
According to Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise, the district will welcome students back to its buildings come Sept. 8, something that has not been allowed since the state mandated its closure to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus in mid-March.
Wise said the transition away from the 100 percent remote learning format came upon the recommendation of state and local officials in the public health sector.
“We would not be opening our doors without their approval,” he said.
Their recommendation, Wise explained, was based on a variety of factors such as the sustained lowering of COVID-19 positivity rates and case counts in the area, as well as the downgrade of Franklin County to Level 2 status on the state’s coronavirus public advisory system.
Due to the fluid nature of the virus and its spread, Wise did not commit to a timetable as to when the district will go back to the traditional format of 100 percent in-person learning.
“It is too early to put a date on that transition,” he said, “but I will say that it depends on advice from public health agencies and how well the community adheres to its guidance.”
He also did not commit to keeping the district in a blended learning environment.
“It may come to be that we have to close a building, multiple buildings or the entire district should positivity rates and case counts rise again,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that because we do feel that face-to-face instruction is by far superior to remote learning but we have to do things with the safety of our students, staff and community in mind.”
Under the school reopening plan approved by the board of education on Aug. 10, the student body at each school will be divided into two groups while working under the blended learning format. Students will only be able to enter the school building on assigned days and others will learn online from home until their group is scheduled. Traditionally, one group will have in-person instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other will have in-person instruction on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be closed to conduct a deep cleaning of the building.
Because Sept. 8 falls on a Tuesday, the “blue group” will attend on Tuesday and Wednesday and the “green group” on Thursday and Friday. The following week will then go back to the typical Monday/Tuesday, Thursday/Friday format. The master calendar with color coded designations can be found on the district’s website.
The district will also require that students and staff wear face coverings while in the building, with mask breaks being offered to the youngest students at certain times.
Students will be required to wear the facial coverings while riding the bus. Students are also encouraged to bring their own face coverings, but the district will provide them if needed.
The use of water fountains is discouraged in the buildings though the water system will not be shut off. Instead, students will be encouraged to bring their own water bottles for hydration.
Additional safety measures that have been implemented throughout the district include hand sanitizing stations in each classroom; the limitation of shared classroom supplies; and a grab-and-go style in the lunchroom. The kitchen staff will also be using barcode scanners in lieu of student ID number punch pads.
Each building will also receive multiple cleanings of high touch areas per day and deep cleanings at least once a week.