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CEO Justin Jennings outlines plan to return Youngstown City Schools in-person

The city schools will miss the March 1 deadline but officials are making plans to begin transitioning some grades back to in-person in March and April. The district is also beginning to make plans for the 2021-2022 school year. 
YCS CEO Justin Jennings 02232021
Youngstown City Schools CEO Justin Jennings during the Academic Distress Commission meeting on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

YOUNGSTOWN —  CEO Justin Jennings outlined plans to return Youngstown City School District students to school in-person as early as March 23 during Monday’s Academic Distress Commission meeting. 

That announcement came despite agreeing to Gov. Mike DeWine's offer for COVID-19 vaccinations for school faculty and staff in exchange for a pledge to return to some form of in-person or hybrid model instruction by March 1.

City schools will miss the March 1 deadline but officials are making plans to begin transitioning some grades back to in-person in March and April. The district is also beginning to make plans for the 2021-2022 school year. 

Here is a look at Youngstown City Schools plans for now:

STEPS TO RETURN IN-PERSON

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended middle and high schools in communities with high transmission risk to remain remote, Jennings said. However, elementary school students could return to hybrid learning if safety precautions are followed. 

Mahoning County remains on the red level according to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System.  

The district is purchasing personal protective equipment to make it safe for students and staff to return in-person, including thermometers, plastic desk shields, masks and hand sanitizer. 

The district is also working on social distancing markers in classrooms and hallways. While original plans called for students to eat lunch in classrooms, the district is working on plans to return lunch to cafeterias so teachers can have a break, Jennings said. 

“Eventually, we're going to have to go back and be able to work through those safety protocols,” Jennings said. “Doing those different things now, I think will be more beneficial than waiting until next year. “

Faculty and staff will receive a day off on March 4 and 5 to receive the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Vaccinations in the district started on Feb. 3

The district also is considering transportation plans for returning to in-person learning. Social distancing guidelines limit the number of students per bus, and as result the district does not have enough buses to transport all students on a given day. 

Youngstown City Schools is responsible for transporting about 4,800 students as well as about 1,300 students to 18 private and charter schools in Youngstown. 

The district plans will use the second round of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money to order 20 new school buses for the next school year. The buses are expected to arrive in October. 

PHASE 1

Phase 1 will be divided into phases A and B to have pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade students return on hybrid models for the remainder of the school year. 

Phase 1A will have pre-kindergarten to first-grade on a hybrid model by being in-person on Tuesdays and Thursdays and have remote learning on Mondays and Fridays starting on March 23. 

The district will also have students with multiple disabilities and autism in grades K-8 for in-person instruction for two days per week. 

Phase 1B will have grades second through fifth on a hybrid model by being in-person on Mondays and Fridays and remote learning Tuesdays and Thursdays starting on April 13. 

Wednesdays will continue to be for student independent learning, office hours, educator training and professional development.

Jennings said surveys will be sent out next week for parents to choose if they want their children to return on the hybrid model or remain virtual.

“It's not mandatory that they have to come back, but we want to give those parents who do want their scholars in school that opportunity,” Jennings said. 

Jennings also noted that all students will be in the building at certain times due to state-mandated testing. 

Jennings said transportation was part of the reason these grade levels were chosen to return in-person first. He said the district knew there would be enough buses to allow for proper social distancing based on CDC guidelines for pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade.  

Jennings said the district will continue to monitor CDC recommendations to explore the return of grades 6-12 in-person. The district is also creating a plan for seniors to return on an individual basis based on graduation needs. 

PHASE 2

Phase 2 includes plans for the summer for YCSD Learning Recovery and Extended Learning Plan and Summer Enrichment Plans to be in-person from June 7 to July 9. 

The full plans for summer enrichment programs will be released on April 1. 

Jennings said summer enrichment programs will focus on scholars who fit the following criteria:

  • Low attendance
  • Low scores on assessments and tests
  • Middle school and 8th grade transitions
  • Summer seniors who did not meet graduation requirements in May
  • Visual and Performing Arts Enrichment Camps

PHASE 3

Phase 3 will focus on returning students in-person for the 2021-2022 school year through a school district realignment. 

The realignment will return the district to having Pre-K to 5th grade elementary schools, two middles schools for grades 6-8 and two high schools. 

Students will also have the option to remain completely virtual but have to remain virtual for a full semester. 

Jennings said more details will be available on this plan in the next few weeks. 



Ellen Wagner

About the Author: Ellen Wagner

Ellen Wagner reports on municipal services and budget cuts in Youngstown. She is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
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