Back-To-School Plans Taking Shape For Athens County Districts

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Athens County, K-12 school administrators and county school boards are deciding how to proceed with the upcoming fall semester.

Tom Gibbs, ACSD Superintendent
Tom Gibbs, ACSD Superintendent in remote interview with WOUB News earlier this year.

Athens City Schools superintendent Dr. Tom Gibbs is recommending the district conduct its fall semester online. The Athens City School Board will vote on this proposed plan at its meeting next week.

Gibbs said if the board votes for an online-only semester, the district has to plan for how to take attendance and set up how grades were assigned. He said teachers will have better technology to facilitate their interactions with students.

“This year it will be set up more like typical class, there’ll be a daily schedule,” he said. “The schedule will, as much as possible, mirror the typical school day, and students will be expected to be online at certain times for certain lessons and then also be asked to do other lessons and assignments independently in between and for homework.”

Gibbs said the board has not yet begun discussion on if fall sports will still take place.

Athens City School Board President Dr. Sean Parsons said he has been paying attention to social media conversations about how parents and teachers feel about how the district should proceed for fall semester.

“Parents face impossible decisions right now, how do they choose between work and helping their children?” 

Right now, the feedback that I have gotten seems to be supportive and understanding of a very, very complicated situation. It’s no-win for anybody and so we just have to, with clear minds, move the best we can.”

At Monday’s board meeting, the district’s two licensed school nurses said they think it would be unsafe and irresponsible for students to return to school buildings. The president of AFSCME Local 1846 shared union members’ unease about students returning to school with the rapid increase of COVID-19 in the county.

Parsons said he knows some people want students to return to school, but said he thinks having students physically together in a classroom would be dangerous, based on what is known about COVID-19.

“It would be hard for me to ask them to do something I’m not doing myself. I mean, we’re holding our board meetings virtually. It’s not safe for us to do it, how is school safe for kids, kids and teachers and the community?” 

Trimble Local Schools’ board is holding a meeting Thursday, July 16 to discuss four options for returning to school in the fall: to have students report to school five days a week; to have students report to school four days a week and have remote instruction one day a week; to separate students into cohorts, and have group “A” report two days a week and group “B” two days a week, with students doing lessons online when they do not go to school; and a fully online semester with remote learning.

The district will re-evaluate the plan after the first nine weeks of school and communicate future plans for the second grading period, according to the return to school plan posted on the TLS Board of Education website.  

The Federal-Hocking School District Board of Education will discuss plans for moving forward at their next board meeting Tuesday, July 21. Superintendent David Hanning said he believes it is too early to make a final plan, and said school administrators and the board will continue to have conversations about how to plan for the fall semester based on COVID-19 data in Athens County. 

“I’m going to share with the board a draft back to school plan for them to discuss, and that will include three options other than a traditional five day a week face-to-face option,” he explained. “Our goal is to serve the students as best we can in the most appropriate setting we can give in the circumstances.”

The Alexander Local Schools board approved a plan Wednesday night for students to attend in-person class two days a week and have remote learning three days a week, according to board president Jay Barnes. Students with last names A-L will go into school on Tuesday and Wednesday, and students with last names M-Z will go into school Thursday and Friday.