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Beaver Local planning in-person classes for now

CALCUTTA — The Beaver Local school district is preparing to fully resume in-person classes when the new school year begins on Aug. 24, with officials spending the next three weeks working out the details.

Superintendent Eric Lowe reported at Monday’s school board meeting that while the plan is to return to pre-COVID-19 normalcy as much as possible, that could change if the pandemic conditions worsen again.

“The plan is to be here face-to-face five days a week. Obviously, that plan will depend on what happens in the county and the state and the guidelines we continue to receive,” he said.

Like every district in Columbiana County, Beaver Local has been developing three different plans for the upcoming school year that can be used as the situation changes. Lowe and the other superintendents in the county have been meeting monthly on the subject, and all currently intend to start the year with in-person classes following general guidelines issued by the state and being crafted in conjunction with the county Educational Service Center.

Another plan would be for students to remain home and continue with complete online instruction, which is what occurred when Gov. Mike DeWine closed schools in mid March to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. A third plan would be a combination of in-school classes and online instruction should the need arise depending on changing health conditions.

Lowe said the plan being drafted by the district’s reopening task force would follow the state guidelines handed down by DeWine, which includes a mandate that staff wear masks. The mandate does not apply to students.

The goal is to go public with a tentative reopening plan the first week of August after meeting with teachers. A community forum to take questions would be held afterwards.

“At this time that is what we know and think will happen, but things change as we know quickly during this pandemic,” Lowe said.

School officials will send out a survey asking households if they intend to send their children to school, since parents have the option of having them remain home and continue learning entirely online. The school must know this for configuring classrooms while maintaining social distancing as much as possible.

“I want to do what we can as a team to meet their needs,” he said.

Maintaining the standard six feet social distancing would likely cut classroom sizes in half. Lowe said the American Pediatric Foundation believes the health risks to youths is extremely low and it is better for children, if possible, to attend school five days a week while maintaining three feet social distancing than to go to school every other day while trying to maintain six feet social distancing.

Officials will also ask parents if their children intend to ride the buses. Those who do will be given assigned seats and the same partners to limit exposure and to maintain social distance.

There will be hand sanitizers stations on the bus and throughout the school, which will be sanitized by the maintenance staff using electrostatic sprayers. The HVAC system will be adjusted to increase fresh air flow into the school complex.

As mentioned above, staff members are required to wear masks, but Lowe is acquiring face shields for those who want the option. This way students could see their teachers’ faces and what they are saying.

Board member Jerry Barnett said they have to wear face shields where he works and the shields quickly become difficult to see through. He recommended fog-resistant goggles and masks as an alternative.

Also being discussed is whether students will be fed in the cafeteria or at their desks. Lowe said either option will likely include boxed meals. Students in grades K-6 will likely remain in their classroom all day instead of changing classes.

The superintendents are drafting their reopening plans in consultation with county Health Director Wes Vins, whose leadership was described by Lowe as “invaluable.”

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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