The Fairfield Local School District will transition into its blended learning plan on Thursday, superintendent Tim Dettwiller told The Times-Gazette.
Fairfield schools will follow on the blended learning plan until Friday, Dec. 4, according to a Wednesday statement on the district’s website — fairfieldlocal.org. On Dec. 3, district administrators will reassess and announce whether schools will continue to follow the blended learning plan or return to full-time, in-person learning on the following Monday, Dec. 7.
“Our number one goal for this year has been to provide the safest educational environment possible for our students and staff,” Dettwiller said in the statement. “We are no longer able to meet that goal while operating under our traditional in-person learning model. In order to meet this goal, we must transition to our Blended Learning Plan.”
Under the blended learning plan, Fairfield students will be separated into two groups denoted “Group A” and “Group B.” Students from the same household will be in the same group.
Group A will attend in-person classes all day on Monday and Tuesday and then complete coursework virtually on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Group B will complete coursework virtually on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then attend in-person classes all day on Thursday and Friday.
The district will use Wednesday for teacher planning, updating Google Classroom, and deep-cleaning school buildings.
On Thursday, Nov. 19, Group B students will attend classes in person while Group A students learn from home.
Students will learn using a combination of live Google Meet sessions and activities assigned in Google Classroom. Teachers will take attendance daily during Google Meet classes and based on evidence of participation in Google Classroom. Grading policies will remain the same.
Students who do not have access to the internet at home can connect from the schools’ parking lots.
The district previously ensured that all students had access to Chromebooks in the event that the district transitioned to its blended learning plan.
During the district’s October board meeting, Fairfield Local Director of Curriculum and Gifted Services Kesia McCoy said district administrators revised the district’s previous blended learning model based on parent feedback.
Extracurricular activities will continue as scheduled under the blending learning plan unless Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Health, or the Ohio High School Athletic Association direct otherwise.
Beginning Dec. 2, families will be able to pick up meals for the days their children are learning remotely.
Parents and guardians should submit a meal request form, which is located in the blended learning plan document, by the end of the day on Monday, Nov. 23.
Dettwiller encouraged Fairfield families to review the blended learning plan on the district’s website and send any questions to him at email@example.com, or secretary Amy Buddelmeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dettwiller requested that community members not call the schools with questions unless it is an emergency.
“I want to thank the Board of Education, the staff and students and you, our community, for working so hard to keep our students safe in school every day to this point,” Dettwiller wrote in a statement that announced the district’s decision.
As of Wednesday, the district had four positive cases involving Fairfield Local students, according to the district’s COVID-19 report, available at fairfieldlocal.org. In addition, 143 students and three staff members from the elementary, middle school, high school, and administrative office were in quarantine.
Fairfield schools previously closed on Oct. 20 due to staffing issues related to COVID-19 quarantines. While classes at the middle and high schools resumed the following day, the elementary school remained closed for the remainder of the week as the number of elementary staff members in quarantine or isolation resulted in inadequate staffing.
At that time, 89 students and 10 staff members were in quarantine.
“The issue is we have an escalating number of students and staff being placed in quarantine,” Dettwiller said at the district’s Oct. 19 board meeting. “Our district’s inability to cover those vacancies caused by quarantine — primarily today in the elementary — how do we reverse the escalation and keep schools open? Which is all of our goal: as much education time as we can get.”
District administrators reassessed the middle and high schools’ staffing abilities on Wednesday and decided not to transition into a districtwide blended learning plan at that time. Elementary students returned to class the following Monday, Oct. 26.
At the October board of education meeting, Dettwiller said the blended learning model helps cut back what he calls the “quarantine net,” which refers to quarantine standards that lead to the quarantine of those who spend more than 15 minutes within six feet of a person diagnosed with COVID-19.
“I told the staff last week: Your mask protects you and the other person you’re with from Covid; the six-foot distancing protects you from the quarantine net,” Dettwiller said.
Dettwiller continued, “Staffing would still be an issue [with the blended model], but the key thing is trying to mitigate future staffing issues. You just reduced the ‘quarantine net’ by allowing six-foot spacing. The one thing I pushed the hardest for this model to begin with was that we wouldn’t get caught in quarantine as much because we know we can separate the kids.”
Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner also attended the October board meeting, during which he reminded board members of the circumstances of the statewide shutdown during the 2019-20 school year, which gave public health officials and school staff eight hours’ notice that schools would close.
“Whatever we see in the community, we expect to see in our schools and in our long-term care,” Warner said. “As we see increases around Highland County and Southwestern Ohio, we’re going to keep having these things pop up. One of the hard jobs ahead of you as a school board is finding the right balance between staying open as much as possible and occasionally deciding, ‘Let’s take a break for a few days. Let’s gather our feet under us again and be in the position to open back up and be better poised for success.’
“One of the things we discussed last week at our superintendents’ meeting was whether this will remain our decision for very long.”
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.