Fulton County’s school superintendents met by teleconference last week to finalize a uniform plan to put students back into schools five days per week this coming academic year.
A joint announcement released Monday outlines an overall framework for the county’s school districts, Swanton Local Schools Superintendent Chris Lake said. He said the plan is broad enough to permit each school district to meet the needs of individual school buildings if necessary.
“It’s going to be kind of uniform across the county,” Lake said. “As a county, we felt like there were things we could all agree to.”
The superintendents had been formulating a plan for weeks and met June 24 to begin crafting the details with the help of Fulton County Health Commissioner Kim Cupp. However, they had to wait for Governor Mike DeWine to issue specific guidelines to follow. DeWine presented a five-step process last Thursday, after which the superintendents convened online to hash out final details.
Lake said the plan allows for some, if not all, of the districts to offer online schooling for students whose parents feel uncomfortable about sending them back during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We wanted people to feel comfortable with this decision,” he said.
During his televised appearance last Thursday, DeWine detailed state guidelines for sending students back to brick and mortar buildings in the state’s 611 school districts. He noted that online curricula the districts were forced to create after school buildings closed in mid-March resulted in some deficiencies.
“Some kids, because of their circumstances, their inability to get the Internet, whatever, did not get exactly what they should have been getting,” he said. “We know that, generally, it is important to get kids physically back to school.”
DeWine laid out five guidelines the state’s school districts must follow should they decide to reopen their buildings to students:
1. Vigilantly assess symptoms. Students and their caregivers, staff, and volunteers are directed to conduct daily health checks before attending school, including taking students’ temperatures. Any student with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher or displaying COVID-19 symptoms must stay home.
School must implement a testing strategy, and the temperatures of students and staff members entering a school building may be taken. Those with questionable results will be sent home and referred to a health care provider or a local test site. If a case of COVID-19 is discovered the school district must contact the county health department.
2. Each school building must provide ample opportunity for students and staff to wash their hands throughout the day. Hand sanitizer must be provided and required in high traffic areas, including building entrances and classrooms.
3. Buildings must remain thoroughly cleaned and sanitized by using disinfectants.
4. Social distancing of at least six feet must be practiced as often as is possible in classrooms, hallways, restrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds, drop-offs and pick-ups, and on buses.
Suggestions to enforce social distancing included staggering lunch times or allowing students to eat in their classrooms; modifying schedules; and posting visual cues for social distancing and reducing student mingling.
5. A mandatory face-covering policy, with exceptions when it would not be safe or it could significantly interfere with learning. Face shields can substitute for masks. The state strongly recommends that all students in grade three and higher wear a face covering, although studies indicate that students are able to wear them from kindergarten.
The guidelines are included in “The Reset and Restart Education Planning Guide for Ohio Schools and Districts,” a document created by the Ohio Department of Education.
“Our guidelines are based on the best scientific evidence and data we have,” DeWine said. He said they were developed with the help of educators and health officials “to create the safest environment possible for our students and staff…Because school buildings are indoor settings, with students and staff in close proximity for an extended period of time, they are prime places for the spread of COVID-19.”
He added that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has strongly recommended students’ return to brick and mortar schools so they can experience the educational and social benefits of the classroom.
AAP board member Chris Peltier said the transmission of coronavirus and the risks of its severity and morbidity are lower among children, making the benefits of attending school greater, provided proper procedures are in place.
“For so many children, the schools offer so much more than just education. And social isolation among children right now is huge,” he said.
Peltier said studies have revealed increasing depression among school-aged children during the pandemic. “It’s not allowing kids the opportunity for other kids to lay eyes on them,” he said.
Many children also rely on school for nutrition and exercise, Peltier said.
DeWine said because reopening the state’s schools safely will require unforeseen expenses he will work with the Ohio General Assembly to offer school districts financial assistance.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.