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BL moves start date to Sept. 8

CALCUTTA — The Beaver Local school district is moving the start of school back 15 days because officials say more time is needed to prepare for resumption of in-person classes during the COVID-19 crisis.

Superintendent Eric Lowe announced Friday on Beaver Local’s Facebook page that classes would begin Sept. 8 instead of Aug. 24 as originally set in the 2020-21 school calendar.

Lowe, when reached for comment, said they need more time to address and train for every possible contingency to protect students and staff as they prepare to resume in-person classes, and there are a lot of moving parts that need addressed to achieve those goals.

“We want to make sure safety is at the forefront of everything we are doing,” he said.

A task force consisting of teachers, administrators and other staff was formed in June to begin putting together a reopen plan after Gov. Mike DeWine closed schools in March to prevent the spread of the virus. Lowe said before the plan is finalized they need some key information, such as how many parents will commit to sending their children back to the classroom.

A general survey taken in June found a significant majority of parents favored the return to in-person classes. Lowe said a letter going out to parents on Tuesday will ask them to make a commitment, and those that do must agree to keep their children in class the entire first nine weeks.

The school must know this for configuring classrooms to maintain as much social distancing as possible in compliance with the recommendation of pediatric associations.

For those who opt to keep their children home, Beaver Local will be offering an online curriculum through the Jefferson County Educational Service Center’s Virtual Academy. Lowe said staff is currently working with the ESC to align the curriculum to meet Beaver Local’s needs.

The online option will not involve live streaming of classroom instruction by teachers to their students at home. Their teachers will be available and make instructional videos for homebound students to use.

The letter going out to parents will also ask them for other key details needed to complete the plan, such as whether their children will be riding the bus and do they intend to pack their lunch or eat in the cafeteria.

“These are all important planning elements in our process,” Lowe said.

In addition to an overall plan to keep the school building as virus-free as possible, Lowe said they must have specific safety protocols in place for classrooms, buses, the cafeteria and every other component.

Next week, the district will also release specifics about the plan. All district employees will be required to wear face coverings, as well as all students in grades 3-12, “and it is strongly recommended for students in K-2 to wear face coverings as well,” Lowe said.

Those who opt to ride the bus must wear a face covering, and no more than two children can occupy a seat.

While some may question the decision to push back the start of school, Lowe said they want to get it right. The decision also benefits parents by giving them more time to review the tentative plan and make informed decisions.

“It will give families more time to choose what option is best for their child,” he said.

The school district is also encouraging parents to get their children current on immunizations which they may have fallen behind on because of the pandemic.

Salem is the only school district in the county that adopted a school calendar in the beginning that pushed the start of school back to the Tuesday after Labor Day. Lowe said the Southern Local just moved its starting date back to Sept. 8 as well, “and I think you’re going to see more and more as well.”

The board is expected to officially amend the school calendar at its Aug. 10 meeting. To accommodate the change, the end of school will be pushed back two weeks to around June 10 “so students will still receive the same number of instructional days,” Lowe said.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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