Athens City School District families have mixed opinions about how the upcoming school year should be coordinated, officials say.

The Athens City School District Board of Education met virtually on Thursday, June 26 in regular session. District Superintendent Tom Gibbs updated Board of Education members on the planning process for the upcoming school year.

Supt. Gibbs noted during the virtual meeting that a preliminary survey was sent out to families in the district, featuring questions about the upcoming school year.

Families were asked how many students they had in the district and what grade level those students were entering into, but they were also asked what type of schooling model they would prefer this fall. Gibbs noted that in surrounding counties that have sent out similar surveys, roughly 80-85 percent of families voiced they wanted to move back to a five-day, in-person traditional school model.

However, that’s not a trend he saw from responses to the ACLSD survey.

Out of 835 responses, 30 percent of respondents voiced they would prefer a full-online model.

Another 30 percent voiced they would prefer the five-day, in-person model.

The remaining 40 percent prefer the “blended” model of education: in-class instruction on some weekdays, remote learning on others. The blended model could also opt for a staggered schedule for the building, limiting the number of students and staff permitted at one time.

Gibbs noted he’s hoping families have the option to have their students participate in the online-only learning, as some students or their immediate family members are considered “high-risk.”

A survey for teachers has not been sent out, but is expected to be after more guidance is passed down from the state level, Gibbs said. There is a strong likelihood, however, that at some point during the school year, all students in the district will have to pivot to an online-only model, whether it be for a short period of time or extended.

Gibbs noted that transportation is also an important part of the planning conversation. Utilizing school buses during the 2020-2021 academic year has its obstacles, particularly in terms of physical distancing. If students were to be six feet apart on the bus, as recommended by health officials, each bus could hold a mere 10 students per route, if that. Gibbs said that barriers between seats could assist with this, however.

Another measure that could be implemented if students are being transported to and from their homes is the use of face masks or coverings. In addition, families may be seated with each other on school buses as an added safety measure. However, this creates other obstacles, as it can be difficult to ensure students keep their face masks or coverings on during the bus ride.

Gibbs told Board of Education members that in this planning process, he’s keeping multiple populations in mind. For instance, there’s a strong group of families who would benefit greatly from the 5-day in-person school week: working families who have jobs during the school day and who lack a flexible work schedule. 

The district considered using some buildings in the district for five-day, in-person schooling, if allowed, and using others for the blended learning option, but this theory wouldn’t necessarily work for Athens Middle School and High School students, Gibbs said.

After the Ohio Department of Health and the Governor’s Office pass down more direction on how the state’s schools should proceed this fall, Gibbs said the district will contact every family in the district and receive concrete information about every student.

The ACLSD Board of Education will meet again in regular session on July 23 at 6:30 p.m.; @sydneydawes_95

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