After a switch to learning remotely at the beginning of January, Athens City School District students will be able to resume hybrid instruction Monday.
The return to hybrid learning and the start date were tentative, depending on the level of community spread of COVID-19, according to a previous Post report.
Sean Parsons, president of Athens City School Board, said the hybrid model is set up with students divided into two groups. One group at a time will attend school in person for two days a week, and everyone is learning remotely on Monday.
“Really, the reason for that is to try to keep the number of students in a space to a level that helps them learn as safely as possible,” he said.
Parsons said the district is working with each grade level to make hybrid learning meet the needs for students of all ages.
“What’s working for high school students, as far as their learning and the devices to help them learn in physical buildings, is a little bit different than some of our younger kids,” he said. “But I think they’re trying to make age-appropriate decisions for teaching and learning is kind of what the teachers and administration and staff are focused on.”
He also said the district is working closely with the Athens City-County Health Department and that superintendents across the region are in communication.
“At this point, we're just keeping in close communication with the health department,” Parsons said. “We'll see what happens with recommendations now that the students have returned, because that does impact our community in our county, and really, Athens City School District, primarily.”
Tom Gibbs, ACSD superintendent, said there have been adjustments made to grading due to hybrid learning. The state of Ohio has also changed graduation requirements, so Gibbs doesn’t expect the graduation rate to have a significant decrease.
Gibbs also said the district will need to take into account possible learning loss for students next year and provide support for those impacted by online education.
“Anytime something changes up, it's challenging for families, and sometimes for children, but also for our teachers who had to be flexible as we've needed to change for the health and safety of all the people that are in our schools,” Parsons said.
Additionally, Gibbs said there is a vaccination plan in place for all ACSD faculty and staff that wish to be vaccinated.
“As soon as the vaccine is available, we will put that plan in place and then establish a start date for 4-5 days/week in-person instruction for students,” Gibbs said in an email. “In the absence of vaccinations, I do not anticipate that we would move to full-time in-person instruction in the near future.”
Parsons said the district will also have to take into consideration that the vaccine is not approved for children, so guidelines like social distancing and masks will be around for “quite some time.”
Gibbs also said that, to date, overlap between Ohio University and the school district has been minimal. While college students do have a connection to the community, he said, the student population in ACSD stays fairly separated from college students.
“Of course, if an outbreak of Covid at the University impacted a large number of OU faculty or staff who do have more interaction with the broader public, we would need to consider that impact and make necessary adjustments,” he said in an email.
James Gaskell, Athens City-County Health Department health commissioner, said that he does not anticipate an outbreak of COVID-19 in ACSD from returning to hybrid learning because the district has had few cases in the past.
“When the college students were enrolled in the fall they comprised 75% of our county cases. Despite that, we had little community spread,” Gaskell said in an email. “In general I do not think (coronavirus) disease in college students will impact the school system.”
Gaskell said the one exception to this may be college students who are student teaching, but this risk may be mitigated by OU’s frequent testing of students. He also said that because vaccines are 95% effective, vaccinating all teachers should provide a safe way to return to in-person instruction.
“I'm most thankful for, really, our teachers and our staff because they're always the point for us, no matter what,” Parsons said. “This is a really challenging time for them, and we're trying to get through this together as best we can.”