Community Update 6/26/20
Dear Families, Employees and Community Members,
“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” - Winston Churchill
I have been reading The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson and have been thinking of the former British Prime Minster and the challenges he faced.
There has been a great deal of worry over the last six months; worry over health, jobs, learning, relationships with our neighbors and the future. Many have lost sleep during this time and have tried their best to conceal this worry from children, loved ones and fellow workers. As a school district, we worry as well. For our students, their families, our employees and what will happen next.
It has been widely reported that this Tuesday, June 30, Governor Mike DeWine will share with the public Ohio’s highly-anticipated return-to-school guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year. On Monday, June 15, a draft of Perrysburg School’s return-to-school plan was shared with the Board of Education and community. It is available at the following link:
Our thinking and planning in the absence of clear direction has centered around answering the question of how do we create a learning environment that is as safe as reasonably possible for as many students and employees as possible? We acknowledge and respect the fact that there will be some who view this risk as too much. For them, we are working on a robust Perrysburg Schools online experience until such time that we have reduced or eliminated the risk to our students and employees. We have focused our thinking and planning on what we can control.
There is risk in all we do. In our homes, there are risks in the simplest things, stepping into the shower, walking down steps or driving through our neighborhood. During a global pandemic, the risk we take is significantly magnified. We have learned that remaining in our homes is not a failsafe for avoiding this virus. The reality is that we must come to terms with this virus, take every reasonable step we can to reduce risk and move forward until such a time that there is a treatment and/or vaccine.
As the Governor and leaders plan to release the guidelines to schools for the 2020-2021 school year, they are doing so during an uptick in the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Some have speculated that this may be part of the reason for the delay in releasing the guidelines. Also, the Governor reported that the average age of those infected and hospitalized is trending downward to include more younger adults. For children, it has been stated that there is less risk for hospitalization and significant illness than in adults. This does not mean, however, there is no risk.
We want to be honest about the risks. In response to this, our plan has restructured the school day from preschool to grade 12. We also want families to know that we have explored virtually every aspect of the school day and experience and thought through how we can reduce the risk to students and employees. In our planning, we have identified hundreds of variables that we can approach differently to better protect our students and employees to reduce risk. We recognize that there will be hundreds more that we have not thought of as we move forward. We are committed to adapting our plan based on feedback from those we serve, work with and professionals from the county and state departments of health.
In our planning, we have made on-site education a high priority at all levels given our efforts to reasonably reduce the risk to students and employees. We recognize that there are many students and families who experience barriers to online remote learning. Specifically, students who receive special education services, lack access to wifi or technology, who receive school meals and younger students for whom remote learning is not as effective as face-to-face instruction. All of this has been balanced against the need for social distancing. The result is restructuring the school day to place elementary students in self-contained cohorts and with secondary students a strategy that has them attending face-to-face instruction with smaller groups of students on alternate days.
The complexity in planning to have school during this pandemic is impossible to convey. From transporting students, teaching and learning, feeding, delivering services and considering the movement of students from the age of 3 to 19 throughout their school day is a daunting task to say the least. As an employer, we also must consider the safety and wellbeing of nearly 600 employees. Schools are the hub of communities. When examining the countless school events we hold, including concerts, theatrical performances, clubs and athletics, we are planning for the safety of our guests and visitors. Also, we have been examining plans for keeping our facilities open to the public for such purposes as elections, community sports and other outside organizations that use the school buildings monthly. We are working on answering the question as to how we can keep the facilities reasonably available and sanitized for those outside groups that rely on the space.
All of this work is being done during a time when the school district has already received a reduction in funding last month of over $800,000. Of the initial state reductions that came out this spring due to COVID-19, education accounted for almost 60% of the total of state cuts. We are planning for further state reductions in the 2020-2021 school year as well as a decrease in local tax revenue. Our planning to keep students and employees safe is being done while we also plan to address the looming budget shortfall. Planning to better protect students and employees during this pandemic is occurring at the same time we are forced to consider reducing programming and employees. This is not an exclusive Perrysburg Schools issue, but one that every Ohio school district, college and university is facing.
As the Governor issues the return-to-school guidelines soon, we are anticipating a great deal of flexibility being part of the plan. The Governor has been clear on his intentions in that respect. How school districts respond to those guidelines may be driven, in part, based on unique variables. The amount of COVID-19 present in the community and county, the size of the school district and the community’s tolerance of risk. Consider that the plans for schools located in Franklin (8,310 cases), Hamilton, (4,337 cases) and Lucas (2, 534 cases) Counties may be different than those in Athens (29 cases), Jackson (17 cases) and Williams (60 cases) Counties. Wood County has 345 cases in comparison. School districts that are smaller with just one or two school buildings serving their entire K-12 student population will face different challenges than those with many more students and schools.
It is likely that the guidelines from the state may be based on changes in communities, counties and regions. Some have speculated that there may be a “green, yellow or red” warning system that will be issued for school districts based on certain conditions. Each color may have corresponding recommendations that may either further restrict or loosen. In Perrysburg’s plan, we recognize that we must be prepared to adjust to these changing environments. To that end, throughout the first semester and perhaps beyond, depending on conditions, Perrysburg Schools will be working to prepare for periodic returns to full remote learning for many students in case of rising community spread of COVID-19. By building in planning for these likely transitions, we will be able to better meet the needs of our students – those who are able to participate in face-to-face instruction as well as those who are 100% online.
When the Governor releases the guidelines, we will immediately review those plans. We will evaluate the plan that we have prepared and will begin to make adjustments as needed. This process will be ongoing throughout the summer and frankly during the 2020-2021 school year. We will continue to communicate with you each step of the way.
To be successful this school year, it will take a disciplined and concerted effort on the parts of the schools, families and community. Our schools and community all share a responsibility to reduce risk while continuing to strive to provide as typical an educational experience as we can for as many students as possible. Students need to be in school. There is an emotional, academic and social consequence for our students when they are not in school. Balancing this risk with the risk of COVID-19 will continue to play a significant role in our planning.
As we move forward, I am reminded of another Winston Churchill quote: “It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” Our plan and the impending state guidelines are the first link of others to come. We recognize this is not an easy time and we respect that families will have vastly different opinions and reactions to any plan that is proposed and ultimately enacted. Our commitment to ensuring all students achieve their greatest potential is paramount to what we do today, tomorrow and in the future.
Thomas L. Hosler
Posted Friday, June 26, 2020