MASON, Ohio — Mason City Schools will announce its education plan for the 2020-21 school year next week, according to Tracey Carson, the district's spokeswoman.
Before Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that the state was working with local school districts on how to reopen in the fall, those districts already were busy drafting plans.
Mason City Schools sent questionnaires to parents before the end of the school year in an effort to understand what the community wants.
“The majority of our parents are so ready for our students to return. We had a majority say that if safety protocols are in place, we would send our kids back to school,” said Superintendent Jonathan Cooper.
The district asked parents if they would send their children to school this fall even if no coronavirus vaccine were available. More than 58% responded yes, and a total of 42% answered no or that they were unsure.
The approval numbers increased to 64% and 67%, respectively, when the district asked parents if they would send their children to attend half days or alternating school days.
Nonetheless, that leaves at least a third or more parents of Mason City Schools students who either would not send their children to school in any scenario without a vaccine or who are currently unsure.
Cooper believes there will be some kind of continuum in which there will be both in-person and remote learning.
“Instead of saying there’s a one size fits all for everyone, we know that there are going to be students and families with compromised immune systems that we need to be thoughtful of,” Cooper said.
Natalie Tant, a mother of three who responded to the survey, said she’s not sure what she would be comfortable with for her children.
“I’m not sure I fully know what feels comfortable right now. I know that my kids love socializing with classmates, and this is a part of staying healthy, too,” Tant said. “I would feel comfortable if temperatures were administered daily.”
Tant said she finds it hard to imagine a full year of remote learning.
“My children have a hard time focusing at home due to the simplest distractions. No matter how perfect a homework station you set up at home, distractions are inevitable,” Tant said.
The needs of families and students won’t be Cooper’s only consideration, he said, adding, “The decision we will make would have to meet the needs of not only the students but of staff. It has to be a safe environment for staff.”
Maria Mueller, president of the Mason Education Association, the union that represents Mason’s teachers, said families will need to be flexible.
“We need everyone to understand that if students are back in our buildings there will likely be a significant remote learning undercurrent in order to meet the needs of families who won’t/can’t send their children to the building,” Mueller said.
Another consideration for the district also will be safe transportation via school bus. The state of Ohio has not issued guidance as to how many students will be allowed to ride buses at any given time.
“This is the largest challenge school districts will face across the country,” Cooper said. “If you start to change your day and you think about half-day models, it will ramp up the cost for us to do transportation.”
Cooper said that could be an ugly situation as the district already has shouldered a $2 million budget cut due to the COVID-19 crisis and could potentially face more depending on what the state announces in July.
The cuts come on the heels of an operating levy passed this spring amounting to a $165-per-year increase in taxes on the value of a $100,000 home.
Cooper said he worries about potential budget shortfalls deepening depending on what the state decides to do this summer.
“I would hope they could come up with a better solution than forcing us to go back to our taxpayers,” Cooper said.
The decision on how to proceed this fall, barring an order from the state to once again lock down, will be left to individual school districts.
Teachers and administrators agree that the formula for success will be flexibility from everyone.
“As a school district we had already established very clearly what our values are...One of those values is to always include community input and feedback and trust that our families and students have great ideas, Cooper said.”