Fulton County’s seven school districts open soon under a collaborative coronavirus plan adopted by the superintendents and the county health commissioner.
When asked, several of the superintendents said they have no qualms about proceeding with the academic year.
The Fulton County Schools’ Common Reopening Agreement calls for safety protocols; an active partnership with the Fulton County Health Department; daily temperature checks conducted by students and district employees that preclude attending if a temperature is over 100 degrees or other symptoms are present; the district’s transparency regarding the risk to students and district employees; a need for consistency in operations, while recognizing individual differences among the districts; and maintaining approved school calendars.
And on Tuesday Gov. Mike DeWine ordered that all students in grades K-12 must wear masks at school. Exceptions will be made in several instances including students with physical disabilities or facial deformities for which masks would inhibit breathing.
Individual components of the superintendents’ agreement include the following:
• The districts’ superintendents have agreed that the county health department will take the lead should a student or district employee contract COVID-19. With the districts’ cooperation, the health department will define “exposure” to the coronavirus, determine what procedures are necessary, and communicate directly with the victim or their family.
• Students will receive traditional food options. However, cafeteria seating will be reduced, cafeterias will be sanitized between uses, and students will be asked to wash their hands before and after their lunch period. Condiments will be available in separate packets.
• Students will be asked to sanitize their hands before and after a class. The number of students per class will depend on individual circumstance, taking safety into consideration.
• All school personnel are required to wear masks within close proximity of people.
• Two students – three, if the students are younger – will be permitted per seat in district school buses. Siblings will be seated together where possible. Seating charts may be necessary in the event of contact tracing. Face coverings will be encouraged among students and are mandatory for bus drivers in cases of close proximity.
Numbers of students eligible to ride a school bus may be reduced in the event of a state requirement.
• Students will be asked to sanitize their hands before and after recess.
• Students will not be permitted to congregate on school grounds before or after the school day.
• Field trips will not be held.
• The districts will discourage visitors during school hours. However, each school district will determine under what circumstances visitors might receive access to school buildings and what safety precautions they must follow.
The agreement states that all rules may be subject to change during the academic year.
All Fulton County school districts will make online learning available for students whose parents don’t want their children attending traditional classes. But district guidelines forbid students from jumping back and forth between online learning and attending school.
According to the agreement, parents will be advised of the risks students face by attending the school campuses. It states that “being in a public place has a certain level of risk that cannot be eliminated.”
County Health Commissioner Kim Cupp said community members can contribute to the success of the school openings. “Everyone can prevent the spread of the disease,” she said.
“If (school districts) put their very best effort forward and take the necessary steps to be able to enable separation and maximize the separation physically between students, between teachers, that’s going to (allow) the long-term ability to maintain the in-person studies,” she said.
Still, the districts need to prepare for the potential of positive cases, Cupp said, adding, “The more that anyone in the school and everyone in the school takes to limit the number of times that they are in close contact with someone, that will limit the spread of the virus.”
Swanton Local Schools Superintendent Chris Lake said because the confirmed COVID-19 infection rate in Fulton County, according to Coronavirus.ohio.gov., equates to .33%, and given the safety measures the school district has taken, “I believe we can make a successful return.”
Lake said the school district planned to require masks for K-12 students, and he’s confident they’ll maintain usage through the entire school day. Other precautions will include portable desktop barriers in classrooms and additional space between students.
Only one teacher has expressed concern about returning to teach but Lake is certain others feel the same.
“Of course, I completely understand why people are nervous about a return and that is why my team and I have worked hard all summer to put safety measures in place,” he said. “That is not to say that a risk does not exist but, as we are all doing in the age of COVID, we are working to put mitigation measures in place to lower that risk.”
About 60 students have chosen online learning through the Swanton Virtual Academy, which is about 4% of the student population.
Protocols to deal with a positive COVID-19 case are still in the works, and will be released to the community, Lake said.
Pike-Delta-York Locals Schools Superintendent Ted Haselman said he’s fully comfortable with reopening the district’s schools.
He said less than 3% of students selected the online learning option, and the county health department’s protocols will be followed if a positive case arises.
Wauseon schools will reopen safely on Aug. 17, Superintendent Troy Armstrong said. He said to ensure a smooth opening he continues to monitor Fulton County COVID cases daily at fultoncountyhealthdept.com/. On Tuesday, the county was reportedly monitoring 22 confirmed cases out of its entire population.
No district employees have voiced concerned for their safety, and 3.5% of students will attend Wauseon Virtual Academy rather than classrooms.
Armstrong said 15 minutes into an hour-long presentation he gave recently to the county’s district leaders he needed a mask break. “I anticipate all students and staff will need breaks which we will incorporate in our reopening plan,” he said.
Armstrong said in the event of a positive test school administrators will work with the county health department.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.