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Fort Frye board discusses new normal

The Fort Frye Local Schools board of education met with a foot in each world Thursday evening, three members in physical attendance at the meeting and two other board members and members of the public attending remotely.

Superintendent Stephanie Starcher said the legislation enabling boards to comply with open meetings law by using remote technology had passed the Ohio legislature but not been signed by the governor, so out of caution a quorum of board members – Kevin Worthington, Stephanie Lang and Kari Schilling – met at Beverly-Center Elementary School while Lloyd Booth and Johnna Zalmanek dialed in from other locations.

In addition to closing school buildings for the time being, the COVID-19 restrictions have delayed school business. Starcher said presentation of the final report of the master facilities planning committee, which charts a course for the district’s building and physical developments over the next several years, has been postponed until large public meetings can be held again. The policy committee meeting scheduled for Thursday was postponed, and Starcher said the buildings and grounds committee will meet later in the spring to discuss the summer maintenance program.

Like other districts, Fort Frye is coming to terms with a long period of remote instruction for its students.

“We are in uncharted times,” Starcher said. “We’ve had a three-week closure of the buildings, we’re supposed to be back April 6. Students have followed the blizzard-bag, calamity days … we’ve gone to remote learning. When we find out how long the closure will actually be, that will inform our academic expectations.”

Starcher said access to the internet is a challenge for some students. As an example, she said a sixth-grade math class from Salem-Liberty Elementary School held recently had 12 of its 17 students present online. That part of the district, she said, is the most poorly served for broadband service.

“Students with no access, that’s a question being addressed across the state,” she said after the meeting. “High poverty areas and remote geography, like we have in Appalachia, have that challenge more, and it’s a huge issue.”

Starcher said those students have been supplied with school equipment, such as Chromebooks, and advised of sources where they might be able to access freeiInternet service.

“Also, they can connect to the school wi-fi from our parking lots. I saw a few students in their cars today,” she said. For some, she said, the schools have supplied hard copies of lessons and homework assignments.

“It’s been very difficult,” she said. “There is no way we can replicate the services that are provided in a brick-and-mortar school, but we’re doing the best we can, and the community has been very supportive.”

In other matters, the board:

• Approved a three-year contract with its Ohio Association of Public School Employees local

• Accepted a total of $3,653.45 in donations of cash and goods from individuals and businesses in the community.

• Approved a 10-day summer reading intervention program for third graders

• Approved adoption and purchase of a series of math curricula for grades 7 and 8 for five years, grades 7-12 for six years and grades 6-8 for six years, at a cost of $82,456.70.

The board is scheduled to meet next at 6 p.m. April 16 in Beverly-Center Elementary School.

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