Dear Families, Employees and Community Members,
I wanted to share with you some important information regarding the school district’s discussion to change our current learning plan. On Monday, February 2, the Perrysburg Board of Education heard a preliminary presentation proposing changing the current hybrid schedule for students for the remainder of the school year. The Board of Education unanimously voted Tuesday night to move forward with the plan as described below.
Today our community, like the rest of the nation, is striving to find the right balance as it plans to address student, employee and family safety relative to COVID-19 as well as the academic, social and emotional needs of students. Since March 17, 2020, when schools were ordered closed in Ohio, the weight of how to plan, adjust and move forward has only grown. The Perrysburg Board of Education spent over two hours reviewing the proposed changes to the hybrid plan, considering each grade band carefully. The Board meeting featured public comments, presentations by principals and a thoughtful and respectful discussion on next steps by Board Members. As with so many COVID-19 changes that we have all had to endure since March 17, these plans will be met with a range of reactions from anxiety or fear to gratitude to anger. We can all agree that we are very much looking forward to putting all of this behind us. We can also celebrate the most recent COVID-19 data in our community and schools that show very low spread. It feels that we are finally taking a step forward. We do so knowing that COVID-19 has proven to be a formidable opponent that demands our respect at all times.
Currently, active COVID-19 cases in the 43551 zip code have fallen to 41-45 cases per week. This is down from a high of 191-195 cases per week seen at Thanksgiving and 171-175 cases per week seen at New Year’s. The last time the community’s numbers were this low was late October. The State of Ohio is also seeing a decline in cases. All of this is good news. Tomorrow, February 19, the Wood County Health Department will be vaccinating all public and private school personnel with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This too is another big step in a return to a more normal experience for our students. Educators in Perrysburg and across the state are grateful for being able to receive the vaccine to be able to return to a more normal school day and week for students and families.
In addition to the vaccine being administered to educators, we have also heard the Governor call for schools to be “open” by March 1. While Perrysburg Schools have been open for face-to-face instruction since the start of the school year, many have interpreted “open” to mean more face-to-face instruction than what is being provided in the current hybrid format. Since July 10, when we shared our back to school plan with families and the community, we have always desired for a return to face-to-face instruction.
As you know, the Ohio Department of Health has also made adjustments to the quarantine rules as it applies to students in the classroom on December 4, 2020 and again on December 30, 2020. Wood County Health Department clarified on January 11, 2021 how these changes would apply to schools. Currently in Wood County, the quarantine rules for students in the classroom are slightly different than what they were at the beginning of the school year. The elementary level saw a reduction in what was considered close contact between students from 6’ down to 3’. This is based on data that has demonstrated reduced spread of COVID-19 in elementary classrooms between students. Wood County Health Commissioner Ben Robinson wrote: “Through the first half of the year, with few exceptions, Wood County Health Department did not identify cases that were linked to in-school exposures. In proceeding with this policy, Wood County Health Department will closely monitor its implementation to ensure that there is a similar experience in the second half of the year.”
Among Ohio’s 88 counties, there are different interpretations as to classroom quarantines, ranging from close contact of 3’ and 6’ for elementary and secondary students, respectively, to no quarantines of students in the classroom if they are all wearing masks. We are hoping in the weeks ahead to get further clarification from the Ohio Department of Health as these differences from county to county have frustrated families and school leaders alike.
Since August, before the vaccine was approved, Perrysburg Schools has been offering face-to-face instruction and has been vigilant with its protocols for students and employees. As we move forward, we will continue to balance safety with taking steps to increase face-to-face instruction.
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Ohio Department of Health, the Governor and the Wood County Health Department, there is a consistent message that steps need to be taken to resume more face-to-face instruction.
On February 2, a preliminary presentation proposing changing the current hybrid schedule for students was shared with the public and Board of Education with the hopes of getting feedback from families, employees and community members. Since that time, we have been listening and planning. While these may seem like small steps to some, each of these changes require reworking employee schedules, transportation, food service and safety protocols.
We have been consulting with other school districts in the area, like Lake and Maumee for example, who have been in-person five days per week on such things as cafeteria seating, food service and hallway traffic. For our elementary schools, for example, students will resume moving from classrooms to the cafeteria for lunches and instruction in music, STEM and art rooms. Plexiglass dividers will be utilized in each cafeteria and students will remain with their classmates during this time.
Perrysburg is not alone. Districts such as Anthony Wayne, Sylvania, Springfield and Eastwood are among the roughly two-thirds of Ohio’s 610 school districts that are having these same “next steps” conversations now.
The learning plan approved by the Board of Education on Tuesday is as follows:
- Preschool – Continues with the current hybrid model – preschool does not fall under the K-12 guidelines. However, the plan is to work with staff and families to launch a March 30 return to 4-day week.
- Elementary Schools – Move from current hybrid plan with 4 days per week to 5 days per week beginning on Monday, March 1. The elementary school day will see cafeteria service and specials in ENCORE classrooms resume with safety modifications.
- HPI and PJHS will return to the original hybrid plan with 4 days per week (Tuesday-Friday) on Monday, March 1.
- PHS will move from the current alternating days hybrid plan to the hybrid plan with 4 in-person days per week (Tuesday-Friday) on Tuesday, March 16.
- In grades 5-12, we will begin with the 4-day per week hybrid schedule and monitor it closely. If the number of COVID-19 cases and quarantines are low and do not support the continued need for a remote learning day, then an adjustment may be made. If quarantine guidelines change and students are not required to quarantine, changes may be made.
As we have listened to concerns from faculty and staff members, families and community members, the general reaction to these plans and other steps taken by the school district are polarized. There are those who feel what has been happening so far this year is successful from both an academic and health perspective considering the circumstances and do not understand why a change is being proposed. There are those who feel the school district’s plan has failed students academically and socially and fewer precautions are needed.
The challenge that school district leaders have is striking the balance between the academic, social and emotional needs of students, which are best met in more face-to-face instruction, and the need to keep students, employees and families safe from COVID-19, which is most successful when maximum social distancing and masks are utilized. Some employees, families and community members have expressed strong views on what should happen. The school district respects those positions. With the polarization we are seeing, we understand there is no solution that will be satisfactory to everyone. We are doing our best to listen, understand the science and data as well as the guidance from the health department and what is possible given the school district’s size and available space.
Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don't have the strength.” We appreciate the courage that you have all shown this year. We are turning the corner.
Thomas L. Hosler