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Youngstown schools present tentative plan

Youngstown students start returning to classrooms in March

YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown City School District plans to begin reopening its buildings with pre-kindergarten through first grade students beginning March 23, using a hybrid model.

These students will be taking classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Second- through fifth-graders will return April 13, Mondays and Fridays.

The return date for grades six through 12 will be determined by the district based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

School district Chief Executive Officer Justin Jennings said he believes this is the safest course.

“As I’ve said since the beginning of the pandemic, the safety of our scholars, families, teachers, staff and the community is the most important thing,” he said. “We have always based our decisions on information from health and science professionals. We will continue to do so to ensure the safety of our scholars, staff and community.”

Students will return on an individual basis, determined by whether they are on track for graduation or where they are in their learning.

Some students have been returning to school this month for assessments that began Feb. 2 and will continue through March 26.

Board of education member Brenda Kimble said she understands the district is being pressured to return to school by Gov. Mike DeWine, but argues if school will not open until March 23 for the youngest students and mid-April for older students, they might consider not reopening until the fall.

“The school year is scheduled to end on May 25,” Kimble said. “It does not make sense opening the schools for two months. A lot of our parents said they are not going to send their children back into the buildings.”

Kimble said the district will lose teaching time while trying to get children reacclimated to being in the school buildings. Teachers also have to adjust to teaching both in-person and virtually.

Kimble said the district already has lost students during this school year.

The district has lost approximately 400 students this year, representing 7 percent of its total student population, according to its records.

PARENT SURVEYS

Jennings emphasized that families will have the option of having their students return to in-person learning or remain in remote learning.

“We will be doing surveys with parents beginning next week,” Jennings said.

The surveys are expected to last about a week with the results released in about two weeks.

Jennings noted that during a recent parent meeting, many said they are not ready to send their children back into school buildings.

Jennings cited guidance released last week by the CDC that recommended middle and high schools in communities with high transmission risk remain remote. It also said elementary school students could return to hybrid learning if safety precautions are followed.

Mahoning County remains in the red in terms of transmission risk.

Academic Distress Commission Chairman John Richard suggested during Monday’s commission meeting that Jennings not be afraid of contacting superintendents of other Ohio school districts that have been operating under hybrid systems, and those that have been operating five days per week through most of this school year.

SUMMER SCHOOL

The Youngstown school district will have a learning recovery and extended learning plan / summer enrichment that will take place June 7 through July 9.

Jennings said the district’s summer school programs will focus on literacy and math.

The district will release the formalized summer enrichment plan on April 1. The next school year will begin in August.

BUSING

The district will use a portion of the $22 million it received in its second round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds from the federal government to purchase 20 new school buses. It also will use a portion of those funds to replace heating and ventilation at various schools.

A primary consideration in returning to in-person school is transportation. Besides the roughly 4,800 city schools students the district is responsible for transporting to and from its own buildings, it also must transport students from 18 private and community / charter schools.

The district transports about 1,300 students who attend other schools.

With social-distancing guidelines that limit the number of kids per bus, the district doesn’t have enough buses to transport all of them.

The district expects its new buses to arrive in October.

NEXT YEAR

Jennings said the school district will be realigned in the next school year, re-establishing the middle school program, instead of continuing the pre-K through eighth-grade model.

“We expect our eighth-graders to not only be ready to take Algebra 1 classes, but to pass them,” he said.

Next year, the district will have pre-K through fifth grades, sixth through eighth grade schools, and high schools; an alternative school; and a virtual option.

Jennings said the virtual option will be from first through 12th grade. The district expects the virtual option that will be available next year should be much improved over what was available when he arrived in the district because of what has been learned by teachers over the course of the last year.

“Our goal is to have staff members available to teach virtually at every grade level,” Jennings said.

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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