Students in the Wauseon school district proved Monday that even the scourge of COVID-19 couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm to return to class.
And for kids who have been cooped up since the coronavirus pandemic fully reared its head in March their first day back was reportedly a smooth ride.
“We didn’t have any issues that were different than any other opening day. It really felt like a normal start to the year,” Superintendent Troy Armstrong noted.
Wauseon schools were the first in the county to open their doors for the 2020-21 school year. Fayette opened Tuesday while Swanton, Archbold, Delta, Pettisville, and Evergreen schools opened on Wednesday.
Armstrong said student masks remained in place, social distancing was practiced where possible, and no parents have argued over the school district’s mitigation strategies.
“Our kids don’t push the rules we have on a regular basis, so I don’t see why they would push these rules,” he said.
The school district eased the students’ five-month absence from brick-and-mortar classrooms with staggered starts – only one grade level occupied each school building each day this week. The rotation ends Friday, when all grades will resume a regular schedule.
Armstrong said the staggered start “was a huge benefit to this process…and was in the best interest of our students.” He said the goal was to take into consideration the social and emotional states the kids have endured through the pandemic and not overwhelm them.
“Our students hadn’t been in school since March 12, so we wanted to give those students the opportunity to transition smoothly through the school year, and it allowed us to practice our mitigation strategy with just one group of students at a time,” Armstrong said.
Teachers helped with the transition by greeting their younger students from last school year and leading them to their new classrooms, where their new teachers were introduced.
COVID-19 precautions will remain standard fare and will be strictly enforced by building principals, Armstrong said. Masks will be worn at all times except during lunch.
“(Students) are adapting well,” he said. “I do believe that the governor’s public order to wear masks assisted with this transition. The greatest mitigation strategy is the mask.”
Social distancing and forward directional seating are adhered to in both the cafeteria and in the classroom, where desks are further apart and students have assigned seats. Sanitizing is practiced both inside and outside classrooms, and all homework is completed electronically – no hard copies are distributed.
Plastic barriers are used in all school offices and in kindergarten classes, where they act as dividers for students in two-seat desks.
Time between classes is also regulated. Wauseon High School has reverted to directional hallways, and middle school students have adjusted class schedules and reduced or eliminated locker use to prevent crowding.
Masks are especially required for students who have recess, since social distancing in that situation is difficult to maintain. They’re also mandatory for everyone on school buses, where students sit one or two per seat, paired when possible according to family or neighborhood. Buses load from back to front, and unload from front to back.
All student field trips have been suspended indefinitely.
And because of their youth, students in all grades are granted mask breaks on an individual basis throughout the day, during which they can briefly move the covering from their mouth and take a fresh breath.
In a time of polarization and protest over whether children should risk their health and that of others by attending traditional class, 183 of the school district’s students -almost 10% – have opted to attend Wauseon Virtual Academy instead. Armstrong said the virtual option is available by semester.
He said no faculty or staff members have expressed concern for their health, and Armstrong said he’s confident the COVID-19 restrictions can be maintained throughout the school year without major problems.
According to state health experts, there is a level of risk for students returning to classrooms, Armstrong said. But he hasn’t heard a single report of a child expressing fear at being back to school.
“They looked as happy as kids coming into the building as in any year,” he said. “I didn’t see kids responding to the school day any differently than they did at the start of last school year. I’ll admit, we did not know what to expect. But, as always, our students’ parents stepped up.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.