Grove board discusses hybrid model change, vote planned Monday

Valley Grove School District will continue to operate with 25% of students attending in person as school board members on Tuesday shelved decisions to ramp up attendance until next week’s board meeting.

Tuesday’s board work session came to a close with many members disagreeing about how and when the return of more in-person students should be made.

Superintendent Kevin Briggs said the district is “prioritizing our youngest learners with the goal of trying to get everyone in person.”

“At this point we have had only one student case and one adult case (of COVID-19) at the elementary,” Briggs said.

Briggs said he thinks it’s time to examine the cost of what students are missing out on from not attending classes in person.

Briggs cited guidance released Jan. 7 from the state departments of education and health that recommends that elementary schools can still operate in a blended learning model while COVID-19 cases are in the substantial transmission level. Briggs said the Department of Education also advised that children 14 and younger have a lower COVID transmission rate.

“I think that we are in the business of education and we should get our kids back in the elementary building,” said board member Brandon Winger.

Board member William Copely said he wants a 100% return to in-person classes, similar to the fall when the district would respond and shut down as cases of COVID-19 were reported.

Board member Todd Carson said “I don’t think children catch (COVID-19) as much,” but Carson said he thought children might still cause the virus to spread, even potentially causing the spike in cases prior to Thanksgiving.

Board member Melanie Anderson said she was concerned for teachers in blended learning models. Anderson, who teaches classes at Slippery Rock University, said teachers face extra work and problems when balancing between in-person and online students.

Briggs said administrators will focus over the next several days on getting input from teachers about changes to the district’s learning model.

Elementary Principal Jacob Saullo said two teachers have expressed concerns about changes to learning models.

“School during a pandemic is challenging,” Briggs said. “Nothing can replace sitting in front of a teacher.”

While school board members and administrators discussed returning to a 50-50 hybrid learning plan for next week, Winger said that decision should wait to allow parents and teachers more time to prepare.

A new instructional model plan is expected to be discussed and voted on at Monday’s board meeting.

Board members did vote Tuesday to allow student-athletes to remove face masks while participating in sports.

Anderson and Winger voted against the action.