Bowling Green City Schools officials continue to work toward getting students back to in-person classes.
In an interview, the board of education president and superintendent said that the availability of a vaccine has led to more discussions about trying hybrid in-person learning.
“I’m confident we’ll come to some consensus in two weeks,” said school board President Norm Geer on Friday.
“We’ve been trying to do what we think is in the best interest of health and safety,” said Superintendent Francis Scruci. “What would motivate any district to keep kids out of school? We will (return) when it’s safe to do so.”
Geer said that he will encourage board members to keep an open mind and consider what is happening with the vaccine, which arrived in Wood County in late December.
“Obviously, people have opinions, but we act as a board,” he said. “We’re just trying to do the right thing and the right thing is a decision we make monthly.”
At a special meeting last week, the board continued discussions about staying remote, which has been in effect since March, and going hybrid. Bowling Green is the only school district in Wood County that has online instruction only.
The board meets again on Jan. 19.
On Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine said vaccines for school personnel will start the first week of February with the goal for schools that receive the vaccine return to in-person instruction by March 1.
To achieve that, a condition of receiving the vaccinations is that superintendents agree to in-person learning by that date.
The governor did not stipulate in his address that every district staff member get the vaccine before a school district can reopen, nor did he establish a distribution plan.
“I don’t think we can require anyone to take the vaccine,” Scruci said.
Staff will have a choice, and if they choose not to get the vaccine, that will not be a determining factor in their employment, he said.
The Ohio Department of Health has sent forms to superintendents to indicate their school plans to have in-person learning by March 1, as well as indicate the number of staff they believe will choose to take the vaccination.
Scruci expects participation in the district to be around 73% and guessed 6% would not take it for personal reasons, with the remainder being a maybe.
To get to hybrid by March 1, “that’s really going to make districts question what they are going to do,” Scruci said about any schools that are still online.
Bowling Green is no different, he said.
In July, the board of education decided to start the 2020-21 school year online. In November, when the board was considering returning students to the classroom, Wood County went to red or level 3 in the state advisory system. Level 3 means that there is very high exposure and spread of the coronavirus.
The school board committed to a matrix in November that outlines the conditions that must be met before there could be a return to the classroom. One of those is that the county must return to orange or level 2.
The board decided last week to look at the matrix again and decide whether to continue to follow it, alter it or ignore it, Scruci said.
The board has made a decision that ensures safety, and with the vaccine on the horizon, the district is moving toward the right time to return to class, he said.
“If the board decides to go with a hybrid model, we can make it work,” Scruci said.
“If we want the vaccines, then we have to do this,” he said about a return to in-person learning.
Transportation has been a concern with the challenge of keeping students 6 feet apart at school, he said. Scruci, though, said he believes many parents will drive their children to school.
“We knew we could make (the) hybrid model work when it was safe because it would allow us to social distance,” he said. “From the beginning our number one concern was the health and safety of our staff, students and families. It still is our concern but with the vaccine available it makes it safer for our staff and students.
“It’s not like there’s not going to be any risk,” he continued. “That’s still a concern.”