Othello schools to start school year online

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | July 28, 2020 10:42 PM

OTHELLO — Students in the Othello School District will be starting the school year online.

Othello School Board members voted 5-0 to approve a reopening plan presented by district officials, which included the online-only option. The recommendation from district superintendent Chris Hurst was to start the school year online.

Board chair Mike Garza said he wanted to give families and OSD staff as much time as possible to prepare.

Board members made the decision at the regular board meeting July 27. The first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 27.

Online registration will be open by Monday, Aug. 3, and parents will be encouraged to use the online option. An in-person option for registration will be available Aug. 3 through Aug. 6. In-person registration sites will be Othello High School, McFarland Middle School and Wahitis Elementary School. Those locations will allow for social distancing.

Hurst said district officials decided to recommend the online option after a discussion with the Adams County Health Department.

Schools were closed in March as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The virus is still active, and in fact cases have increased dramatically in Adams County in June and July. Hurst said ACHD officials would not approve on-campus instruction if the current infection rate trends continue.

During a presentation to board members, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning Pete Perez said the district’s experience with online learning last spring was a struggle. In March, district officials and teachers had three days to prepare for the switch, the district lacked adequate supplies of computers, and some families lacked internet access.

For the fall there will be adequate supplies of computers, Perez said, and district officials are working on ways to improve Wi-Fi access. District officials also are looking at options for kids who can’t get online.

In spring, all school buildings were closed, Perez said, but for the fall they will be open. Teachers will be expected to be at school. Teachers and students will be in daily contact, and attendance will be more strictly enforced.

The exception to online instruction might be special education students who can’t get adequate help online. They may be allowed at school in small groups.

The district will provide some assistance for parents who need help, Perez said. One option under discussion is a “soft opening” for the elementary schools, where parents would come to school to meet the teacher and receive some pointers in online learning.

The plan approved by the board includes an option where kids would be on campus part time and take online classes part time. That “blended” option could be used when circumstances change, Perez said. If infection trends changed and school could be reopened partially or fully, he added, it probably would take a few days to make the transition.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.