Bowing Green City Schools students will return to school Sept. 8 with classes entirely online.

That is a turnaround from the way the school board was leaning after its special meeting last week.

The board on Tuesday vote 4-1 on virtual lessons with the Sept. 8 start date.

Tracy Hovest voted no.

She said she was caught totally off guard with this direction based on how last week’s meeting ended.

“I guess I feel like I’m in the twilight zone right now,” said Hovest. “The conversation we were having on Thursday is completely different from the one we’re having today.”

She said it should be up to parents to choose if they want to send their child back to school.

“I really feel it is important to not only allow your teachers a choice, but your parents a choice,” Hovest said. “We owe it to parents to give them an option. I would like to see that option be afforded to parents, either the A-B blended or the remote learning.”

She also warned of parents leaving the district if the year starts remotely.

“If we choose to start off the school year remotely, prepare for mass exodus because you are going to have people choosing to go elsewhere because options are available to them,” Hovest said.

Superintendent Francis Scruci disagreed.

Families can’t make the assumption that neighboring districts will accept open enrollment, when more students may be counterproductive to their plan, he said.

More than 325 people watched the meeting, which was shown via YouTube as the board continues social-distancing guidelines.

The intent of the plan is to reassess after six weeks the status of coronavirus in the community and decide whether it is OK to return to the classroom for the second quarter.

With approval of a new calendar, the end of the first nine weeks will be Nov. 13. Graduation will likely change to June 6.

By delaying the start of the school year, that buys the district more time, although Scruci said he suspects the coronavirus trend won’t change.

He pointed out there were 93 new cases in Wood County between Friday and Monday.

“That is not a good trend and the trend is continuously going in the wrong direction,” Scruci said.

The remaining four board members voiced support for the online plan.

“This issue is one I really take to heart when we’re dealing with the health and safety of our students, our teachers and our staff,” Jill Carr said.

She has listened to the daily health updates and debated on what she would decide if her three children were still school-aged.

“We’re really only at the beginning of this pandemic,” Carr said. “More is coming.”

The number of affected children age 10 and older is increasing, she said. She also pointed out the subsequent spike in numbers after Memorial Day and Fourth of July, and now the fair is coming up and students are returning to Bowling Green State University.

“I cannot in good conscience put any student or teacher in a position that puts their health and their safety at risk,” Carr said.

“COVID affects every age group,” board President Ginny Stewart said, and said if the tables were turned and she was a parent or teacher, “given the current situation … I would not go back to the classroom.”

She echoed Carr’s concern.

“I can’t in good conscience ask our kids or our teachers or our staff or our bus drivers to come back when I wouldn’t do it myself.”

Stewart agreed it will be inconvenient for parents who work and need childcare.

“A little inconvenience is far easier to stomach than hearing one of our students … has contracted what is potentially a deadly or debilitating illness that we could have avoided just by doing this and not taking the easy way out,” she said.

Board member Bill Clifford agreed to starting online, but when moving forward follow the risk levels set up by the state.

If the county remains red, stay online. If the shift is to yellow or orange for at least two weeks, use the hybrid method that was discussed last week, he said.

Board member Norm Geer said the A-B plan may be doable in two months but said the situation more likely will be worse. A plan needs to be in place for a transition from virtual to business as usual and to make a “game-time decision” when needed.

He also agreed with starting online and pointed out the board continues to hold its meetings remotely.

“We’re not together … and I don’t feel comfortable asking someone to do something we’re not doing ourselves,” Geer said.

Hovest wanted to know any staffing cuts if the district starts virtually.

Scruci said there would probably be some bus drivers and custodians

“The fact is very simple. The trend in Wood County is not going in our favor,” Scruci said. “Part of leadership is not making the popular decision, it’s making the right decision.”

The safest option is to stay online until a vaccine or treatment becomes available, he added.

“While we may be criticized today, and criticized for a couple weeks, I think ultimately in the long run we will be applauded,” Scruci said. “All the writing’s on the wall. If we ignore that we should be criticized.”

With the Sept. 8 start date, that gives teachers time to train and be prepared to implement online lessons.

The level of coronavirus will be reevaluated in six to eight weeks, which will dovetail into the second nine-week period.

“If we give the kids hope that they’re coming back, it will make it easier for them to handle this time out,” Scruci said.

As for parent concerns about whether their child will get a better online education than they got in the spring, “the answer is yes. We’re going to be better prepared to do what we need to do to educate our students,” Scruci said.

Teachers will be allowed into their classroom and use available materials when developing online lessons, said Angie Schaal, executive director of teaching and learning.

“We are not triaging” like in the spring, she said. “We have a plan to facilitate online learning.”

Classes will be online at a specific time each day but not seven days a week. They will be recorded.

“Teachers take a great deal of pride in providing a quality education and they felt robbed of that opportunity in the spring,” Scruci said.

This will allow them to use their creativity and rebound from what they were forced after school was abruptly closed, he said.

The financial impact from going online will come from savings on utilities and bus fuel, and not having to supply masks for the first semester. The savings was estimated at $500,000.

Offsetting that would be the need to buy masks face, face shields plus the plexiglass desk partitions, hand sanitizers and disinfectants once classes resume.