Talawanda goes virtual the first nine weeks of 2020 school year

The+Talawanda+Board+of+education+meets+in+front+of+a+virtual+audience%2C+and+decides+to+start+the+school+year+online%2C+when+classes+resume+on+Aug.+24.

Photo by Morgan Schneider

The Talawanda Board of education meets in front of a virtual audience, and decides to start the school year online, when classes resume on Aug. 24.

By Morgan Schneider

Talawanda Schools will hold all its classes online for at least the first nine weeks of the school year, the board of education decided this week. Classes are scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 24.

At its Aug. 3 meeting, the board voted to go virtual as the safest and most expeditious way to educate its students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision applies to every grade, from kindergarten through high school seniors.

Holli Morrish, the district’s director of communications, said the board will determine five or six weeks into the school year whether to extend its virtual operations or to return to in-person learning after the first nine weeks. The district was asked by the state of Ohio to plan for three scenarios for the new school year: one fully online, one hybrid, and one fully in-person.

If a school district wants to hold fully in-person learning, they must follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Butler County Health Department, including wearing masks, distances of six feet between students, daily cleanings and more. Morrish said some of these requirements were not possible in the Talawanda schools. “We don’t have enough buses to social distance our full enrollment of kids on (them).”

Given this, along with the fact that in-person learning would most likely spread the virus very quickly among students and staff, the board came to the decision that online learning was the safest option for everyone, she said.

Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer, a resident of the district, said that “if all safety guidelines cannot be fully followed, then schools should consider a hybrid model, or be fully online.”

Don Gloeckner, a sixth-grade math teacher at Talawanda Middle School, said that compared to last spring, one of the biggest challenges going into the fall will be being able to build relationships with his students. “When we are at school, there are so many opportunities…to connect with kids by joking around, giving high fives, mini pep talks, or just listening about what is going on with them. This year, I will need to find new ways to connect with my students and build rapport with them.”

One initiative of last spring will be returning in the fall: Talawanda’s Food Distribution program. The program is intended to provide students with breakfast and lunch for five days a week, while limiting social contact between volunteers and students. The program is open to any family in the school district. 

Morrish said the program will continue as it did in the spring, with participants able to pick up meals every Monday at 12 different locations across the district. One change they’re looking to make, Morrish said, is adding an evening pick-up time for participants. Meals also will be provided on Fridays by the district’s community partner, St. Mary’s BackPack Program.

More details on the district’s online plan can be found here.

Butler County has had 2,804 reported cases of coronavirus and 59 deaths from the disease, according to the General Health District’s update Thursday.