XENIA — Although there are many details to work out, area superintendents were happy to hear Gov. Mike DeWine announce Tuesday that students should be able to be back in the classrooms this fall.
School buildings were closed in March due to COVID-19 and students and teachers made the switch to distance learning. While buildings are still closed, DeWine said the current plan is to have them open by August. Broad reopening guidelines will be issued for schools in regard to protecting the health of students and staff when the school year resumes, but a lot of discretion — including when to open — will be left to the districts.
“I was pleased the governor provided the opportunity for local control and decision making,” Cedar Cliff Local School District Superintendent Chad Mason said. “Anytime we have the opportunity to allow district administrators, staff, and local boards of election to work on individual needs, it is best in my opinion. We will begin this month getting feedback from the community and preparing for school to start in August. It will be nice to have students back in school and learning in whatever capacity that may be next fall.”
Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Superintendent Dr. Doug Cozad said that although the students did well with remote learning, it is best to be back in the buildings.
”It benefits everyone to get back into the routines of learning and attending school,” Cozad said.
Xenia school officials said they share DeWine’s goal of having students in the classroom for in-person experiences.
“We believe in the impact that teachers can have on their students each and every day in our public schools,” Superintendent Dr. Gabe Lofton said.
All shared the sentiment that they hope guidelines are issued sooner rather than later, and they do in fact allow districts to make a lot of local decisions.
“It is our hope that the forthcoming guidelines from the state will be practical in nature and feasible to implement, given the budget cuts that the state has already made for the coming year,” Lofton said.
A draft plan from the Ohio Department of Education was release several weeks ago, outlining potential guidelines. Education-wise, the plan suggests the assessment of each student to determine from where they are starting in the context of state standards and determine the best path forward. It also suggested that schools prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable students including students with disabilities, low income students, English learners, those experiencing homelessness, students in foster care and justice involved youth, etc.
“Daily precautions to practice” include physical and social distancing, daily health checks, use of personal protective equipment (face masks), daily hygiene habits, cleaning and sanitizing throughout the day and at the end of the day, attendance policy related to coronavirus symptoms, and teaching and learning from home whenever possible.
The ODE called it the “most prescriptive section in the guide, and exceptions to it should only be considered in coordination with a school’s local health department.”
“We have requested input from our community on topics like busing, health assessments, masks, blended attendance models, and home internet and computer access,” Greeneview Superintendent Isaac Seevers said. “We will use that information to formulate a local plan this summer. While I appreciate the guidance from the state, because it is an extensive list of things to consider as we plan, we will be creating our own plan for reopening in Jamestown with input from our community and staff. We must plan for how we can best educate our students and stop the spread of the virus. We know that our community wants to return to normal, and we want to stay in school, so we must do what we have to do in order to stop the spread and keep our community healthy. As we plan and return in the fall we will emphasize our three core values with our staff and students: Rams are respectful, Rams are responsible, and Rams are reflective. We will treat each other with respect even if we disagree, we will be responsible and do our individual part, and we will be reflective and think and plan before we act.”
Mason said Ohio’s education system will need to be “flexible and nimble, understanding that the priority of protecting the health of Ohio’s citizens may require schools to operate in various modes at different times, with minimum advanced notice.”
“A return to school will look very different,” he said.