Gov. Dewine releases guidelines for reopening schools

Photo by Janelle Patterson Fort Frye Superintendent Stephanie Starcher stacks plastic face coverings for staff at Beverly Center Tuesday.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine released Thursday both a 17-page requirements guide and a 36-page planning guidefor reopening K-12 schools this fall amid increasing cases of coronavirus in the state.

“We have an obligation to educate our children and keep them safe,” the governor said, noting he and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted both spent many hours on the phone with teachers, parents, superintendents and other educators about reopening educational institutions.

Fort Frye Local Superintendent Stephanie Starcher told the board Tuesday she had participated in such calls and previewed some of the guidance that was released by the state Thursday.

Five general guidelines are in the governor’s guidance to prevent spread: vigilantly assess for symptoms; wash and sanitize hands; thoroughly clean and sanitize schools environment to limit spread on shared surfaces; social distancing; and implement a face coverings policy.

“We can handle this,” said Marietta City Schools Superintendent Will Hampton. “The government can’t make everyone exactly the same when there are school districts in the state who have had no reported cases within their (geographic) jurisdiction and there are others who have probably had students test positive. But these guides, we can work with to find practical solutions.

DeWine said face coverings will be required for all school staff, like the requirements for other industries unless such a covering would impede in the direct education or service of a student, for example in speech-language therapy provided in school or when teaching phonics or foreign language.

Starcher told the board the district has already spent much of the summer preparing with the purchase of additional thermometers and clear plastic face shields for staff. DeWine said the recommendation is that all students from third grade up wear a mask to school.

“We also have a bunch of masks and we have Plexiglas, if the requirement is all staff wear a mask, then that’s what we’ll do,” said Hampton. “If we’re guided to have students wear masks that can be addressed, but part of why we’ve applied (to the state) for the blended and remote learning options is so that we can provide your child’s education in any form we need to. If you’re dead set against sending your child to school, we will be equipped to teach them remotely. We are able and capable of providing you options, that’s why we went to one-to-one (devices).”

Under the assessment of symptoms and distancing, Husted said practicality is required for school districts..

Spreading students out in buses is impractical, but seating students by family may be a compromise reached with the guidance of local health departments, he said.

Hampton and Frontier Superintendent Beth Brown both cited the impracticality of separating students to one seat per student this week and after the guidelines were announced.

“To put one kid on each seat would make it nearly impossible to function and we don’t bus as heavy as many of the county rural schools do,” Hampton said.

Brown said Monday seating options may combine siblings or children who live in the same household, grouping those children to limit an opportunity for exposure.

“I have to emphasize we can function under these rules but we need that whole sense of community,” said Hampton. “I have told my staff repeatedly that we need to have instructional agility where we can change tomorrow if a spike or a confirmed case happens in our county or in our schools.”

Hampton said all school superintendents in the county have been in contact with each other and the health departments with jurisdiction over the school systems.

Starcher Tuesday said the next step after receiving state guidelines would be working with the local health departments to determine practical applications.

Boards of education of the school may vote in July meetings on proposals to bump the start of school dates for students to Aug. 24 to allow for more training time with teachers in professional development days in the week preceding student attendance on campuses.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.


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