As the Talawanda School District (TSD) geared up for a virtual start to the school year on Monday, Aug. 24, students and parents were hopeful for a speedy return to normalcy.
Sarah Dempsey, who works as a collections coordinator at Miami University’s Bursar Office and is a mother of a Talawanda High School (THS) sophomore, is OK with classes beginning online.
“With so much uncertainty and the amount of information being poured [out to] the public each day, I feel [the administrators] are truly putting students first and really showing concerns for the staff as well,” Dempsey said.
Sofia Bolda, a 17-year-old Talawanda senior, said that while she’s upset about classes going online this year, she is hopeful the remote classes now will lead to in-person events next semester.
“I’m so OK with remote learning now, because the more we do now to prevent COVID from spiking again, the more we will hopefully be able to do in the future,” Bolda said.
Bolda said she mainly received information about the decision for classes to be online from her friends and an occasional post on Facebook from the school district.
“I don’t think I ever got an email or anything saying what was going on, and I didn’t know that there was a schedule for how school would work until my friend told me,” Bolda said.
Holli Morrish, director of communications & public engagement for the TSD, said the district decided to go online at its Aug. 3 school board meeting.
“Our school board was in session to decide the different scenarios [for this fall],” Morrish said. “And they decided at that point that we would do a 100% remote learning plan [for the Talawanda School District].”
Dempsey watched the meeting to learn about classes moving online. Whether there was an email notifying the Talawanda community about the transition to online learning, she wasn’t sure.
“I believe that there was, but it definitely spread on social media faster than an email,” Dempsey said.
Although classes will be conducted online, some activities will be allowed to continue in person.
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Athletics and extracurriculars have been approved with restrictions placed by the Ohio Department of Health. Non-contact sports are allowed to have competitions. All contact sports, including football, wrestling, basketball and volleyball are allowed to have conditioning but will follow all the health regulations, Morrish said.
Bolda is a part of the marching band at Talawanda High School, playing the tenors in the drumline. She said they have been practicing since July 13.
“The band was kept as separated as possible to keep the amount of contact as low as possible,” Bolda said. “[But] now, we are able to have practices as a whole band with lots of social distancing put [in] place.”
Bolda said THS will have its first football game Friday, Aug. 28, against Carroll High School in Dayton but can only have 15% capacity in the stands.
“I’m very curious to see what that will be like,” Bolda said. “It feels good to see everyone all at once, and we still have a good time — talk and joke but still get to do what we enjoy.”
Buildings in the Talawanda School District are closed to visitors during the pandemic. However, buildings will be open for previously scheduled events.
If a teacher wants to teach in their classroom for virtual classes, Morrish said they are allowed to do that as long as they wear a mask and close their door.
Talawanda is a one-to-one district, Morrish said. Every student has either an iPad or Chromebook to complete school work.
Certain grade levels are moving into a new curriculum, so those grades had to bring their devices back to get new software. The TSD allowed certain buildings to stay open for this exchange while it promoted social distancing.
“Controlling the number of people in our building sites is very important,” Morrish said.
While some parents, students and Talawanda community members hoped for classes to return in-person, Dempsey understood the district’s position.
“I know a lot of parents are upset,” Dempsey said. “But I am one that sided with the decision to stay online. I do hate to see how many are being furloughed at this time but feel as though online classes are what’s needed.”