Local schools prepare for potential virus outbreaks

By Martin Graham - [email protected]

Following four confirmed cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Ohio, the Record-Herald contacted local school officials Wednesday to see how they will handle any potential outbreaks of the illness within Fayette County.

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19. COVID-19 was unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December of last year.

Washington Court House City Schools (WCHCS) circulated a letter on Wednesday to share what the district is doing to ensure it has a safe and healthy learning environment.

“As you are likely aware, national and state preparation involving COVID-19 (commonly known as Coronavirus) continues to be at the forefront of the public health discussion,” the letter stated. “With the health and well-being of our students and staff being the highest priority of Washington Court House City Schools, we want to share what we are doing to ensure the Blue Lions have a safe and healthy learning environment, as well as reinforce illness prevention measures. WCHCS is working closely with Fayette County Public Health as we continuously monitor the situation through guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Our custodial, maintenance, and transportation staff are continuing to thoroughly clean and disinfect our facilities each and every day.”

Additionally, WCHCS Director of Marketing and Communications Trevor Patton said the district is beginning to prepare for remote learning in the case the buildings are closed by the Ohio Department of Education. Patton did note they are currently not expecting to close, but as the situation is very volatile in the state it is not known if it will happen. District officials said they will continue to monitor the situation in case closures are necessary.

“The Blue Lions are blessed to have many amazing educators with experience in remote learning,” Patton said. “We have built a team of these experts from across the district to prepare a multi-faceted and comprehensive program, flexible to educate our students from multiple platforms for any period of time that we may be closed. While COVID-19 is the catalyst for building this comprehensive program, it’s actually something that is very flexible and can be used in the event of any emergency. The WCHCS Remote Learning Program can be implemented in the case of natural disasters such as a tornado, flooding, or blizzards, or any other reason that may prevent students from getting to our buildings. Even after the COVID-19 situation has finished, we will continue to sustain, improve, and practice this program so we are prepared to engage, inspire, and grow our students, no matter where they are.”

At Miami Trace Local Schools, Student Safety and Attendance Coordinator Jack Anders returned this week following a county-wide meeting that resulted in the ramping-up of discussions concerning safety plans in the event of a pandemic situation.

“We have had two administrative team meetings (Wednesday) for a contingency plan to continue to educate students and to talk through our priorities with the coronavirus,” Miami Trace Superintendent David Lewis said. “We are still working on staff communication as well as a parent communication that will be emailed out this week, which discusses precautions that can be taken and an outline about how we will handle any issues that arise.”

Lewis said the district urges parents to regularly check their emails, get an email address — if they do not have access to one — set up with the school district, and to check the website and social media for continual updates.

“We spent a lot of time discussing distance learning in the district, and our technology department has really been going above and beyond for our distance learning by helping set up plans,” Lewis said. “The high school already takes their laptops home but the other schools do not. Currently, we are expecting to have a trial run this Friday for the middle school so that if we were in a situation where we would close, grades six through 12 would still be able participate in distance learning on computers and online. We are additionally working on hard copies for students with limited internet access and for use at the elementary school. We feel that it would be quite the undertaking to try and get students in the elementary school to take a device home, so at this time we are not going to do that, but will instead work towards the hard copies for them.”

Miami Trace is also encouraging parents and teachers to continue preventative care and take extra precautions to keep things clean. Lewis said he imagines the parents and staff are all tired of hearing it, but the district is being proactive by continuing to disinfect, telling everyone to wash their hands and practice good hygiene. Additionally, he said if a child is sick they should remain home to keep down on the spread of germs.

“We are continuing to meet to discuss what our procedures are though and after a press conference from the governor earlier, a lot of large group gatherings will be canceled,” Lewis said. “We are in constant communication with the health department and (WCHCS) Superintendent Tom Bailey and I have already started to talk so we can make sure we are on the same page here in the county. It might be inevitable that we have to close, but currently we are not expecting to close and hope that we don’t have to close. We are trying to make good decisions and put a plan in place we can use in the future, there is just a lot to consider. We want to reinforce though that we are being proactive so please regularly visit our website, check your emails and social media.”

Fayette Christian School is also taking precautions and is looking to the other districts for guidance. School officials are encouraging families to keep children home who have symptoms of illness.

“We have been encouraging our families to keep their children at home if they are sick or coughing,” Fayette Bible Church Pastor Tony Garren said. “We are also encouraging our kids to wash their hands and use sanitizers that are around the buildings. We clean our building daily and try to avoid close contact not to spread germs. We are also keeping a close eye on the spread of the coronavirus and what the state and local institutions are doing.”

On Tuesday, the Ohio High School Athletic Association also announced precautions it is taking for upcoming tournaments as winter sports come to a close.

“We are following the Governor’s instructions and are doing this for the safety of Ohioans,” said Jerry Snodgrass, OHSAA Executive Director. “This is a very difficult time and we need our schools and fans to know that we have been told we must do this. We must pull together to do the best we can to conduct these tournaments so that the student-athletes can still finish their seasons, which have gotten them to the pinnacle of their sport.”

The first of these changes is that all previously purchased and complimentary tickets for the upcoming state tournaments are now void and new tickets will be sold per the instructions, per sport, with specific details being sent to the member schools. Tickets purchased online via credit card will be refunded by Ticketmaster to the same credit card. Tickets purchased via check will be refunded in approximately four to five weeks. Tickets purchased with cash at the Ohio State University ticket office can be returned for a refund on-site.

Ticket purchasing to attend the state tournaments for wrestling, ice hockey and girls basketball will continue but qualifying teams will need to designate only four family members per student-athlete to purchase tickets. This rule additionally applies to the players and cheerleaders for the regional boys basketball tournaments. For the wrestling and boys basketball tournaments, coaches will be able to designate two family members with school administrators/bus drivers receiving one free ticket for themselves and a guest for the boys basketball tournaments. Meanwhile for the ice hockey and girls basketball, coaches and administrators will be able to designate two family members to purchase tickets.

The information in this article was provided by the OHSAA and the local school districts of Fayette County.

Stay with the Record-Herald for more updates of the COVID-19 disease in Fayette County in a future edition of the paper.

Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.




By Martin Graham

[email protected]