MOUNT VERNON — For students, the summer brings a time to relax, forget about school and, hopefully, spend some time with friends. But for school administrators, this summer will be spent figuring out how to safely bring students back in the fall.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced June 2 that the goal is to have schools start in-person classes for the fall. The boards of education for each district will determine how, and when, students will return to school.
How school looks in the fall will be up to what social distancing guidelines are in place. The Centers for Disease Control released considerations on how to open K-12 schools. They encourage offering students the option of online learning, the use of face coverings, separating desks 6 feet apart, taking virtual field trips and events, staggering the arrival of students and limiting the number of students on the bus.
East Knox Local Schools superintendent Steve Larcomb said that they are continuing to look at the many pieces that come with reopening school.
“It will not be possible to return to campus full-time, five days per week based upon current guidelines under consideration by the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Education,” Larcomb said.
The best-case scenario then, Larcomb said, would have half the students showing up to attend classes two days a week in-person and the other half of students coming in the next two days. The fifth day would be used to give extra attention to sanitation and disinfecting. For the days they are not in the school building, the students will be doing home-based education and school work.
“We hope for better news as the summer progresses,” Larcomb said, adding that the current plan reflects the current parameters.
Centerburg Local Schools has been working on three scenarios for the fall semester, according to superintendent Mike Hebenthal. Scenario one includes all students coming back, scenario two sees only a part of students attending due to social distancing and scenario three is completely online.
“There has been no guidance from the state on which of the three will be directed,” Hebenthal said. “My guess is that directive won’t come until August, which is too late to start planning… So right now, I have no idea what the fall will look like but we are putting a plan together for these three scenarios.”
The district is also working on purchasing personal protective equipment for the fall, but Hebenthal said the availability is limited or not available at all.
Highland Local Schools Superintendent Nate Huffman said their plans include having the students back in the classrooms for the fall semester.
“We are also in the process of creating an online option for families who would like to continue distance learning,” Huffman said. “We did conduct a survey and most families would like to return in the fall but there are some who asked for an online option.”
In regards to the CDC recommended guidelines, he said they are simply not possible from a logistical standpoint, or a financial standpoint. At the end of the day, he said Highland will do what is best for the students.
“Chaos creates opportunity and we want to capitalize on the opportunity to redesign education at Highland,” Huffman, adding that they will have a busy summer preparing for next year and will hit the ground running come fall.
Jason Snively, superintendent of Danville Local Schools, said the administrators are currently going through the data they received from the comprehensive survey put out to students and parents. After they go through the data, the district leadership team will put together a plan. Whatever the fall plans will be, the district will continue distance learning for those who request it or if they are required to do so.
“It is hard to develop a specific plan until we know what our expectations will be,” Snively said. “Our ultimate hope and goal is that we will operate as normal with academics and daily schedules. At this time, we know we will have a very comprehensive, proactive and reactive sanitation and disinfectant plan.”
At Fredericktown Local Schools, a pandemic committee was developed to discuss what the next school year will look like. Susan Hayward, superintendent at Fredericktown, said the district is in a holding pattern until they receive guidelines from the state.
“We are waiting on guidance from ODE (Ohio Department of Education) and the governor’s office, specifically on busing and building social distancing guidelines,” Hayward said. “I am hopeful that we will have some options prepared for the July meeting.”
Kathy Greenich, superintendent at the Knox County Career Center, said they are working with the other school districts to determine how best to operate. One of the biggest issues facing the career center is the transportation and how the local school districts will bus their students in. Hopefully, Greenich said there will be guidelines available for career technical schools available.
“Obviously, we’re doing our best to get as many students in the building doing hands-on as possible,” Greenich said. “Once we have guidelines, we will be in a better position.”
Greenich mentioned that the career center will be at a one-to-one student/Chromebooks ratio for next year for their students and that a survey for parents will be out soon.
Mount Vernon City School Superintendent Bill Seder said that the district’s fall plans will be announced at this month’s board meeting. The school did do a Thought Exchange, a survey-like platform that allowed parents, students and community members to give their thoughts about how distance learning went for the spring semester.
In addition to trying to figure out the fall schedule, the schools are dealing with budget cuts from the state. DeWine made cuts to the state’s budget at the beginning of May, which included $300 million in K-12 public school funding.
Highland lost a total of $314,481, or $184 per student; East Knox lost a total of $245 per student, for a $277,579 total; Danville lost $194 per students, or $99,458 in total; Fredericktown lost $211,709 in total, or $195 per student; Centerburg lost $210,630, or $194 per student; and Mount Vernon lost $760,719 in total, $198 per student.
Each school is dealing with the funding cuts a bit differently, and some are hopeful that there will be no further cuts to the budget.
“We are hopeful that the governor and legislature will use the rainy day fund to balance the budget as needed without further reductions to K-12 education,” Larcomb said.
“Not being in school has helped offset some of the cuts,” Huffman said, mentioning they have saved some money on fuel costs and utility bills. “We are very diligent about where and how we spend money in the district. Knowing that education funding can change quickly, we operate with that mindset so we can hopefully weather any financial issues that come from the state level.”
Snively said they may see more cuts from the state level but mentioned that they might also see reduced revenue from tax collections and local contributions. He said the district is doing good for the next fiscal year but they will be operating on a priority and needs basis until they see what the future holds.
“My biggest concern for next year is extracurriculars,” Snively said. “If we have to limit spectators, then our athletic and drama departments will not be able to fund themselves.”
“I expect a budget cut next year,” Hebenthal said. “But (we have) no way to know how much this will be. Again, I have asked that this decision be made sooner rather than later so we can plan.”
Fredericktown School Treasurer Heather Darnold doesn’t believe there will be any more budget cuts for this fiscal year.
“The district saved approximately $209,000 by not being in session with substitute costs, overtime and transportation,” Darnold said.
She added that she does believe that the school will receive another cut in state aid for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The school, she said, is working to offset the cuts through observing insurance moratoriums and using grant money to help with connectivity, hardware, software and cleaning supplies.
The rest of this article is available to our subscribers.
Do your part to support local journalism
Subscribe to our e-edition to read this and many other articles written by your neighbors.