SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —Ashtabula Area City Schools will begin the school year remotely with a live electronic classroom where students can see and interact with teachers and classmates, Superintendent Mark Potts said Friday.
Class time will mirror in-person school as students will follow a schedule, starting Sept. 2. Attendance and grades will count. All students in grades 1-12 will have a Chromebook and the district plans to provide students with free, site-based lunches again, starting Sept. 2.
"After an enormous amount of thought, discussion, prayer, consideration and deliberation, we have come to the time where we need to decide what format is the best way to start the school year for the Ashtabula Area City Schools — for our students, our employees, our families, and our community as a whole," Potts said in a letter mailed and/or emailed to parents on Friday.
"We have been tasked with the decision to find the safest, most responsible way to return to school that will still promote the best possible learning outcomes for our students. Wrestling with that balance has been difficult. At this time there is really no clear right answer," he said.
With the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the challenges of implementing all of the state's safety recommendations, school officials decided to start the year remotely and then re-evaluate the situation after one month.
"We will be shooting for an Oct. 5 in-person return. This, of course, all depends on events that are largely out of our control," Potts said. "If the climate is safe for a return to school at that time, we will give parents the option to remain in remote learning or to return to school in whatever manner that may look like at that time."
For the next four weeks, school officials will be preparing parents, students, and teachers to start the year remotely, to ensure a smooth transition.
"Parents will be receiving much more information in the coming days through all-calls, videos, and messages," Potts said. "This decision was not an easy one, but we feel that it is the most responsible and safe way to start the year. The health and safety of our students and staff is of the utmost importance to us and weighs heavily in all that we do."
School Board member William Niemi said he supports the decision to do distance learning for the first month of the new school year.
"The numbers are still trending upwards and I believe the AACS is make the right decision in this ever changing environment," he said. "Health and safety is of most importance for our students, families, faculty and staff. I know this has been a very difficult process to work through. I am impressed to hear teachers will be on-line with their students each day to continue the educational process."
Potts acknowledged that some people may be inconvenienced or disappointed by this decision.
"It is clear that there was not going to be a decision that everyone was going to be happy with, but we feel that this is the best decision available to us at this time for the academics of our students and the health and well-being of our district and community overall," he said.
"It is temporary, and we hope that the variables will change by the time we get to October so students who so choose may return to school."