As of Feb. 22, the return of students and staff to in-person learning at the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City schools was going well, Supt. Nels Onstad told the ACGC School Board. At that point in time, high school students had been back in the building full-time for two weeks. Many of the youngest students had started back in January.

A primary challenge has been adjusting to fluctuating guidance from state agencies about sanitation protocols and the length of quarantines and self-isolation for staff and students who may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Onstad said he has received many phone calls from people concerned or confused about the changing protocols, and that the science has been changing about how to handle this new virus in public settings.

Onstad indicated that many school staff and bus drivers had taken advantage of opportunities to become vaccinated against the virus. (The vaccine has not yet been cleared by the federal drug administration to be given to people under age 18.)

Although attendance has been good (95-96 percent) at both the secondary and elementary schools, High School-Middle School Principal Robin Wall said some students fell behind academically during the distance learning period. A couple dozen have been attending Wednesday afternoon catch-up /make-up sessions at the high school, under the supervision of two high school instructors. The district also plans to offer more extensive-than-usual summer school options during June and July for both elementary and secondary students.

Some of this extended learning is being subsidized by grants from the state and federal governments as part of their CARES relief bills. Business Manager Wendy Holle outlined how the district has been spending funds sent to it by these bills and also through local county, city and township governments. Most of the early funds were used for technology to connect students and staff during the distance learning periods and for supplies like hand sanitizer and face masks. Holle’s charts showed that funds from later distributions are being or will be used for things like summer school instruction, ongoing sanitation and distancing and extra transportation service to appropriately distance family groups.

The impact of COVID on the overall school budget has been minimal, Holle indicated. Teachers continued to provide instruction via distance learning. The only category where the district was over budget has been supplies and, as indicated earlier, that has been somewhat offset by the state, federal and local grant allocations.

Onstad told the board that budgeting for next year is still full of uncertainties related to the pandemic. Therefore approvals of next year’s calendar, secondary curriculum and student handbooks are deferred to later this spring.

Elementary Principal Kodi Goracke told the board that students have become more familiar with technology during the pandemic, and that many continue to prefer submitting assignments via computer. In response to a question, she indicated that handwriting skills are favored through second grade, so that students develop fine motor skills and hand dexterity.