Bowling Green City Schools students will likely return to the classroom by March 1 — in some format — but no definite date has been set.
The board of education made no decision at Tuesday’s meeting after a three-hour discussion, 50 minutes of which was with Ben Robison, Wood County health commissioner.
Thirty minutes also was spent talking with Jeff Nichols, president of the Bowling Green Education Association.
Board member Jill Carr said she doesn’t think the board is ready to take a vote on the date to come back, other than a guarantee will be in school, in some format, by March 1.
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” said board member Ryan Myers.
Nichols said that teachers would be comfortable returning to the classroom only after getting the first round of vaccination.
“(Teachers) would feel safer if the first round starts before they come back to school,” he said.
According to Robison, teacher vaccination will start Feb. 1. There are 2,000 people in the county who qualify. He said the health department received around 1,700 doses this week.
There are between 300-330 staff members in Bowling Green schools, said Superintendent Francis Scruci.
“We will serve those who are directly involved with the delivery of education to our students,” Robison said. “But you are right, it is dependent upon vaccine availability.”
Board member Tracy Hovest suggested starting the transition of getting kids with the start of the next semester, on Feb. 8.
Board President Norm Geer suggested getting the elementary grades back Feb. 8 in hybrid since Robison said the social distancing guidelines have dropped to 3 feet and the rules for quarantining has changed for those grades.
That should be considered as an option, Myers said.
Scruci said if it were left up to him to decide, he would not bring staff back until they are vaccinated.
“We don’t go back to school until our staff has their first vaccination. When that happens, I don’t know,” he said. “If we start back, we need to go with the hybrid model. … The ultimate goal is to go back five days.”
“A week ago, I thought this would be pretty easy,” said Geer, referring to when he learned about the vaccine. “It’s not easy anymore.”
Myers, though, said there is no need to wait for vaccinations because Robison has said his department is not seeing a spread among students and staff in other districts.
“I don’t think it’s fair to ask our teachers to go back until they have one vaccination,” said board member Ginny Stewart.
“If we want to go back, we have to be vaccinated,” Scruci said.
Gov. Mike DeWine has stipulated for school personnel to qualify for vaccinations, districts must commit to being in person in some way by March 1.
“I’m wondering if people heard Ben Robison speak the way I did,” said Jessica Swaisgood, who started BG VOICE for parents who want their child in school. “The vaccine should not be a deciding factor because there is no spread of teachers and students in school.
“I’m glad that this administration has finally been forced to go back to school,” said Swaisgood in an interview after the meeting. The board meets via a YouTube channel and there is no public participation.
“If I’m happy about anything, it is the governor has taken steps to help families that want their kids back in school,” she said.
Seventy percent of union members said they were willing to return between March 1 and March 10, Nichols said.
“Like everything else, it’s not a unanimous opinion,” Nichols said.
Teachers fall into the county’s phase 1B for those who qualify for vaccinations.
Robison said when the vaccine becomes available Feb. 1, anyone over the age of 70, plus those persons left to vaccinate in the phase 1A group, also will be in line.
“They welcome being on that list … they welcome getting back to school,” Nichols said. “The vaccine is a game changer.”
Of concern is if a student needs to be sent home to quarantine, Nichols said. Currently, if a student is in quarantine, they can still attend online lessons. Once school resumes, they will be sent home with no teacher contact.
“Teachers have a problem with that,” Nichols said.
Even when sports teams quarantine now, they are able to still attend classes online. That will be lost once in-class lessons resume and there is a quarantine, he said.
“I would like this to be based on when we get the vaccine,” Stewart said.
Myers said what stuck with him from the discussion with Robison was that exposure is not happening in schools.
“He is not seeing students testing positive once exposed,” he said. “I’m not sure why we’re waiting at this point.”
Carr said she was comfortable in waiting until the first round of vaccinations.
Scruci reiterated his stance that he would feel more comfortable waiting for the vaccine in order to protect teachers.
Nichols said teachers have not discussed a preference to return in a hybrid educational form or five days.
Scruci said they also will explore whether there will be enough staff to continue to offer a remote option. Some parents have started a petition for an option other than NOVA.
‘It’s trying to meet the needs of as many families as we can,” he said.
A special meeting will be held Jan. 28 at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom, at which time a decision is expected to be made. BGCS students are the only ones in the county who have been totally remote since March.