The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) released health guidance for school districts this week and with Fayette Countians going back to school soon, the Record-Herald asked local districts for their plans as they prepare to get students into the classroom.
According to the updated guidance released by the ODH, it is strongly recommended that staff and eligible students receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Additionally, consistent mask-wearing for individuals who are not yet fully vaccinated — and layering prevention measures that include good ventilation, regular cleaning, hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick — were all recommended by ODH as good practices for the coming school year.
“The Ohio Department of Health also strongly recommends those who are not fully vaccinated to consistently wear masks, which have proven a very effective tool for reducing the spread of the virus,” the ODH guidance recommended.
“While there are no mandates associated with this guidance, we believe that the recommendations we are issuing are essential to the health of Ohio’s youth and the success of the coming school year,” ODH Chief Medical Officer Bruce Vanderhoff, MD, said in the guidance issued by the state. “The safety of Ohio’s children is paramount, and the preventive measures that schools take will help protect Ohio’s students.”
At Washington Court House City Schools (WCHCS), Superintendent Dr. Tom Bailey explained they would not mandate wearing masks, except on buses from a previous health order signed by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine — an order that expires on Sept. 13.
“Anything that is mandated, obviously, by the state we will follow that guidance,” Bailey said. “Right now the only thing that is mandated is masks on buses until September 13 and that is when that order runs out. Of course that could be extended or not, so right now we are mandating masks on buses for everyone until then. As far as masks in the schools, right now we are not going to mandate masks for anyone. However, for anyone who chooses to wear a mask we will provide masks and they can mask up as much as they want.”
Bailey also confirmed that as of right now there will be no virtual option for the students, and they are expecting students to be back in the classroom this year. WCHCS Director of Marketing and Communication Trevor Patton also said that the district has invested a lot of time, energy and training into the prep work for the hybrid system of learning, and in the event that it becomes mandated that students must leave the classroom, they are ready to take on the challenge.
“The only exceptions to that are the exceptions we had before COVID which are if a high school student needed credit recovery and needed to do a virtual class, we have had that option for years,” Bailey said. “Whatever was in place pre-COVID that is what will be in place again. So they will have the option for credit recovery or we offer foreign languages virtually, but they are physically in the building for that. And our College Credit Plus program will be in full swing again. But in terms of having the ability to choose to stay home and learn from home, we will not offer that. A lot of the programming we use for virtual learning is still used in person, our biggest is Canvas, which is a learning management system. It is just good stuff they can use in person, but if we went virtual or hybrid they would use it more.”
High school students at WCHCS are expected to start on Aug. 18 with a staggered start occurring for the other buildings in the district. Washington Middle School will hold pre-scheduled orientations Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Aug. 18-20 with the first day in the classroom for all students at WMS on Monday, Aug. 23.
Belle Aire Intermediate School and Cherry Hill Primary School first and second grade classes will hold pre-scheduled orientations Thursday, Aug 19; Friday, Aug. 20; and Monday, Aug. 23. The first day in the classroom for all students at Belle Aire and Cherry Hill will be on Tuesday, Aug. 24.
Finally, kindergartners at Cherry Hill with last names beginning with “A-M” will attend school on Tuesday, Aug. 24, and “N-Z” students will attend on Wednesday, Aug. 25. All kindergartners will attend together beginning on Thursday, Aug. 26. Specific details regarding how to schedule a meeting/orientation with teachers will be communicated by the buildings.
Parents or guardians with questions or concerns can contact the WCHCS Central Office at (740) 325-6620. More information about the 2021-22 school year for WCHCS — including discussions with Bailey about the Blue Lion culture and attempts to impact all aspects of student health — will be in the Record-Herald next week.
At Miami Trace Local Schools, students’ first day will also be Aug. 18 and Miami Trace Superintendent Kim Pittser reminded parents that re-registration for students who are already in the district should be completed prior to the start day. Parents or guardians with questions or concerns can contact the central office at (740) 335-3010.
Pittser also took time to talk about the recent health guidance from the ODH and is “on the same page” as Bailey and WCHCS.
“Student and staff health and safety are priority,” Pittser said on Friday. “Our team has reviewed the ODE and ODH Guidance document that was released this week and discussed its recommendations. At this time, masks will not be mandated for classrooms; however, school buses are considered public transportation and until further notice or expiration of the current order, masks will be required on buses. Masks for busing will be provided for any student who needs them. In addition, any staff member or student who is on our campus and wishes to wear a face mask is welcome to do so.”
Pittser additionally explained that this year will be a “Plan A – full capacity,” where students will be in-person for year. She, just as other districts in the county, said that the “Plan B – hybrid model” is available if necessary, but are hoping for it to only come as a last resort.
“We continue to work collaboratively with our local health department and area school districts in order to support in-person instruction,” Pittser said. “This has not and will not change as we embark upon the new school year.”
Additionally, Pittser explained via email that open houses and secondary level laptop distribution have been scheduled. For laptops, two days were held this week for distribution for 10-12 grade students and two more — Aug. 3 and 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. — are available for students to receive their laptop, pick up their schedule and get assigned a locker. Miami Trace administration reminds students that they will not receive their Chromebooks until they have re-registered in Final Forms. Freshman-only orientation will be held on Aug. 16 from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
For Miami Trace Elementary School, grades 1-5 will have an open house on Aug. 16 from 5 to 7 p.m. and kindergarten will hold an open house Aug. 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. Miami Trace Middle School, meanwhile, will hold a sixth grade-only transition night on Aug. 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. and an open house for the seventh and eighth grade students on Aug. 16 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
More information on the 2021-22 school year for Miami Trace students will be in the Record-Herald next week.
Fayette Christian School Principal Larry Fitch was also asked about the impact of the health orders on the school. He said the districts received an email from the local health department discussing the guidance from the ODH and reinforced the idea of certain practices that should impact student health.
“If indeed those protocols work, and I believe they do to a point, we will continue with those things like cleaning the desks, sanitizing, working on keeping distance as much as we can,” Fitch said during a phone interview this week. “We do not plan on wearing masks at this time, our school board decided that based on what we are seeing around us. At this point in time it will be masks-optional. If a parent feels their child should be wearing a mask, then by all means we want them to do that, but it will not be a requirement on our part at this point.”
Fitch said that if for some reason it is needed, they are prepared to return to a remote system of learning, but are trusting that it won’t be necessary this year.
“That does remain available to us, it is there so we are not ruling out the possibility,” Fitch said. “But the plan currently is not to offer that automatically and the system will be used as needed and hopefully is not needed, preferably. I would encourage the students to be ready for school on August 16 and that will be — as always — a full day for kindergarten through 12th grade. The younger ones, pre-school and pre-K, will start later in the week.”
The Fayette Christian School principal was excited to also share that registration for the district has increased by about 22 percent with a total student count of 171.
“We are still getting inquiries and we even have a couple classes at the elementary level with waiting lists,” Fitch said. “We have taken a number we feel comfortable for us to take and so we have a waiting list. It is the highest enrollment we have had since I started here and I am starting my sixth year here as principal. The school is getting close to 50-years-old and there may have been a number higher than that over the years, but in recent memory 171 is the highest.”
Finally, Fitch said they are also hoping to return to the multitude of events they hold throughout the year, including the First Responder Luncheon and even a lunch with grandparents coming up within the first few months of school.
For more information or questions, contact Fayette Christian School at (740) 335-7262.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 463-9684 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.