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Beaver Local students will start in the classroom

CALCUTTA — Barring a significant change in Columbiana County’s coronavirus status or an order from the governor, Beaver Local students will resume with in-person classes when the school year begins on Sept. 8.

The school board formally adopted a “restart plan” at Monday’s meeting that includes an online option for parents concerned about sending their child back to the classroom.

The board approved the measure after Superintendent Eric Lowe gave them a brief overview of what is in the plan, much of which had been discussed in detail at the June and July meetings. The plan framework is being used by all school districts in Columbiana County and was created in collaboration with the county Educational Service Center.

A household survey has been used to help the district in drafting its plan, which is available on the Beaver Local website, along with answers to frequently asked questions. Lowe reported of the 900-some parents who responded (about 60 percent of all households), 77 percent intend to send their children back into the classroom. The deadline for responses was Tuesday.

For the remaining 23 percent, their children will remain home and learn from an online curriculum platform being provided by Jefferson County Educational Center’s Virtual Learning Academy. Lowe said the curriculum is being adapted by staff to meet Beaver Local’s needs and will likely include some live instruction.

This is the same curriculum all students would use should the school again be closed and everyone forced to learn from home.

The survey revealed 78 percent of households have an electronic device their child could use for online learning, and 93 percent have internet service.

Actual numbers showed 59 of respondents lack internet and 65 have no electronic device at home. The school has 1,500 iPads it can send home with students if needed, and Lowe said the district is eligible to apply for a federal grant of up to $250,000 that, among other things, could be used get internet for households without connectivity. School Treasurer Stacy Williams said they may be able to use some of the federal COVID-19 money the district received to purchase additional iPads.

Lowe said the safety of students and staff is paramount. The school will be cleaned and disinfected daily, including using electrostatic sprayers, and there will be hand sanitizing stations positioned around the building. Beaver Local’s HVAC will also be adjusted to increase the fresh air flow into the school complex.

Students and staff are required by the governor to wear face coverings, and that can include shields or gaiters, and face coverings will be available at the school for students who forget to bring one.

Exemptions are available for children with a medical condition that make it difficult to wear a face covering for an extended period, and Lowe said 4 percent of survey respondents indicated they would need an exemption.

In addition to an overall plan to keep the school building as virus-free as possible, the school will have specific safety protocols in place for classrooms, buses and the cafeteria.

Classrooms sizes will likely be smaller because social distancing of between three and six feet will be practiced between students. Instead of moving to a different classroom for instruction throughout the day, K-6 students will remain in the same classroom and the teachers will move about instead.

The survey found that 43 percent of respondents intend for their children to continue riding the bus. Those that do must wear a face covering and can only sit two to a seat, and siblings must sit together. Those who choose to ride cannot change buses or routes, which is sometimes the case for students who want or need dropped off after school at a different location.

Nearly two-thirds of parents said they intend to send packed lunches with their child, and nearly half want their children to eat breakfast at the school. Meals will still be available at the cafeteria but it will be in the form of a boxed breakfast or lunch with no menu options. To achieve social distancing, some students will eat in the cafeteria and others in their classroom area.

Those who choose to attending school in person must commit to sticking it out for the first nine weeks. The same goes for household opting to keep their children home.

All of this could change, depending on the governor and the health threat level status of the county. The governor created a Level 1-4 rating system for counties, with 4 being the most severe due to increased exposure and the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The county is currently Level 1 but had been at Level 2 because of an increase in the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19. Lowe learned this was being driven mostly by nursing homes, and there were few other people outside nursing homes testing positive, which is why the county returned to Level 2. In fact, only three people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

If the county went to Level 3, Beaver Local could go to a hybrid learning model, with students continuing to come to school two days per week on an alternating basis and learning online the other days. Lowe said they would have flexibility, depending on where the positive spike in cases occurred. For instance, if the increase is found to be on the extreme northern end of the county, there would be no need for Beaver Local to switch to the hybrid plan.

A move to Level 4 would likely result in school closing again and all students forced to learn online from home.

The board officially moved the start of the school year from Aug. 24, to Sept. 8, with the additional times used to train staff in the changes that are coming. To make the school calendar work with the changes, the end of school was pushed back to June 3 and Christmas and Easter breaks were shortened.

School board member Jerry Barnett asked about teachers with underlying health conditions that may be worried about returning to the classroom under these conditions.

“There are some that have expressed their concern and we continue to navigate the process,” said Lowe, adding if it becomes a problem the matter would have to be handled in compliance with the law.

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