Talawanda school board hosts first in-person meeting

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Photo by Ally Gallagher

Socially distanced and masked, the Talawanda Board of Education held its first face-to-face meeting since March, Monday at Talawanda High School.

By Ally Gallagher

The Talawanda Board of Education had its first in-person meeting since March on  Monday night, Oct. 12. 

Moving board meetings back to face-to-face was an informal request from a few board members, said Holli Morrish, director of communications and public engagement for the district.

To adhere to social distancing guidelines, board members and administrators were spaced out at individual tables across the Talawanda High School auditorium stage. Other attendees were asked to sit in their own group, wear masks, and respect social distancing. 

Meeting regulations to ensure social distancing and public safety
Social distancing and mask rules required to attend the Talawanda School Board meeting were posted on the auditorium door this week. Photo by Ally Gallagher

Community members could also listen and address the board via a Zoom call. Talawanda, which has conducted all classes virtually since the beginning of the school year, is scheduled to resume face-to-face classes Oct. 20. Students will continue to have the option of continuing to take classes virtually.

“It makes sense as we begin to open our schools, to also open up public meetings,” said Morrish. “But (it is) equally important to offer virtual opportunities to view and participate for any member of the community that may be at risk and cannot attend in person.”

Ohio House Bill 197, passed March 9, requires that open meetings, such as public school board meetings, must offer the opportunity for community members to attend the meeting virtually, even if the in-person option is offered.

According to House Bill 197, Section 12 (4), “The public body shall ensure that the public can observe and hear the discussions and deliberations of all the members of the public body, whether the member is participating in person or electronically.”

Just like the general public, board members and administrators also have the ability to attend the meeting virtually if they become ill, are quarantined, or feel at risk said, Morrish.

Those who selected to view Monday’s meeting from home experienced some issues with sound. Microphones cut out occasionally, or the audio was too quiet to hear at some points. Morrish said this is because the sound equipment in the auditorium is not meant for the purpose of streaming the meetings, but that new equipment would be too expensive. 

“We do not anticipate having to do this indefinitely, so it would not be a responsible expenditure to purchase new equipment,” Morrish said. “The TSD budget is under some pressure now as well, so it’s important to weigh every expenditure.”

With nearly 80 percent of students in the district expected to return to face-to-face instruction on Oct. 20, based on a recent district survey, details of the district’s plan were a major topic of discussion at the meeting.

Chad Hinton, principal at Marshall Elementary School, joined the meeting virtually to deliver an update on safety protocols being implemented in preparation for the students’ return. Measures include color-coding lockers so students are spaced out, placing social distancing markers on the floor, analyzing traffic patterns to avoid classes passing each other in the hallways, and placing plastic shields at desk spaces.

Hinton said some protocols, such as planning cafeteria seating, are still in progress.

“We’ve got to keep looking at numbers and figuring out what we can go with,” said Hinton.

Matt Lykins, English teacher at Talawanda High School and co-president of the PTA, addressed the board representing teachers in the district.

“As far as the plan to open face-to-face, we are hopeful and resolute, but we’re frustrated and worried,” Lykins said. “We know there are no good answers, no risk-free solutions, so it runs the gamut.”

Lykins cited air circulation, keeping students distanced, inadequate cleaning procedures and not enough substitute teachers as concerns. He said teachers are “trying to make peace with the very real possibility” that they will contract coronavirus.

Brandon Schran, the husband of Talawanda High School science teacher Heidi Schran, also voiced concerns. Schran asked the board to consider statewide statistics in its decisions and clarify what has made an unsafe situation, returning to school, a safe one.

“Why are we going back? What has changed?” asked Schran. “And please don’t give my family coronavirus.”

The board members and Superintendent Ed Theroux also spoke about potentially providing COVID-19 testing for Talawanda staff. Testing students is “not financially or logistically reasonable,” said board member Rebecca Howard, but testing teachers might be.

Theroux said he has already considered the testing, which would cost the district $75 per test if the board chose to require it, but that results would take five to seven days to get back. 

“If people would like to, we can do this, but I am not sure of the efficacy of it,” said Theroux.

Students who elected to do so will return to face-to-face instruction Tuesday, Oct. 20. Teachers are preparing for the face-to-face and remote learning combination with three personal development days, Oct. 14, 15 and 16. Monday, Oct. 19 is an off-day scheduled for fall break.