The latest number of COVID-19 community cases encouraged the decision that Wauseon High School conduct remote learning starting this week. But district Superintendent Troy Armstrong is not a fan of the method.
As of Dec. 10, a district-wide count of eight students – six from high school, one from middle school, and one from elementary school – currently have COVID-19 among a district total of 1,900 students, or .42%. Quarantined students include 126 from the high school; 16 from the middle school; 22 from the elementary school; and nine from the primary school – a 9.1% quarantine of the district’s entire student population.
Two – or .90% – of the school district’s 224 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and six – 2.7% – have been quarantined.
Armstrong said WHS students will continue with remote learning through Dec. 18, after which Christmas vacation begins. He said no decision has been made about resuming remote learning when students return after the holiday. “We’re going to wait to see what the conditions are,” Armstrong said.
The superintendent said because the statistics are better at the district’s other school buildings there wasn’t a need to switch them to remote learning.
He said he isn’t enthusiastic about remote learning, preferring that students attend classes in order to benefit from in-person learning and what he considers the important social aspect of education.
“Face-to-face learning is the best (option),” Armstrong said.
Fulton County Health Commissioner Kim Cupp sent Armstrong a letter supporting the decision for remote learning. But she said much should be considered before making that decision, including weighing the effort to control the spread of COVID-19 against the importance of socio-emotional support and development students receive when attending in-person class.
“Although we see positive cases, we are not seeing significant spread in the schools,” Cupp said. She said controlling the spread of COVID-19 involves testing and quarantine.
“You’re isolating a person that tested positive, and you’re quarantining their close contacts. The decision to close takes into consideration, do I have teachers available to teach and how many students are out,” she said. “To go across the board – because there are so many different variables that go into that decision – all of these need to be considered. I don’t think a stroke across the county, treating all schools the same (is necessary) when their community situation…varies district by district.”
At this point in time, Evergreen Local Schools haven’t had to seriously consider going to remote teaching, Superintendent Eric Smola said. The school district analyzes its COVID numbers weekly.
Smola said the school district has contingencies for short-term and long-term remote learning.
“Case numbers and consultation with the Fulton County Health Department would dictate the length of remote learning,” he said. “Evergreen continues to closely monitor our number of cases and we have not relaxed any COVID safety protocols.”
He agrees that in-person instruction is the most beneficial method of education when it’s conducted safely.
“The need for social interaction and direct contact with our teachers are valuable components of the educational process. However, for some families, face-to-face instruction is not the best option during this pandemic, and that is why we offer an online option,” Smola said.
Between Aug. 31 and Dec. 4, Swanton Local Schools recorded 18 positive cases among students and three among staff at the district’s high school; four among students and one among staff at the middle school; and one among students and five among staff at the elementary school. Quarantine cases include: 149 students and four staff members, high school; 93 students and one staff member, middle school; and 78 students and two staff members, elementary school.
Superintendent Chris Lake said only three staff members and five students have been out sick at any one time during the pandemic, both instances occurring in October. As of Dec. 10, one student and one staff member were absent with COVID-19.
The school district has not seriously considered remote learning this school year, since case loads have been manageable, Lake said. He closely watches the number of staff members affected, and has been able to replace them with substitute teachers. He also watches for community spread among students, and said only one case of an infected student passing the virus to a close contact has surfaced.
Lake said all COVID-19 cases in the district have been attributed to individuals outside of the schools. There have been no cases of a student or staff member giving one another the virus.
Should the district be forced to transition to remote learning the change would last at most two weeks to allow for the recommended 10-day isolation period.
And contrary to the suggestion that school districts have become complacent about the pandemic, Lake said Swanton schools have become even more diligent about safety protocols and contract tracing.
“If we don’t stay on top of these things then we are opening the door for COVID to spread and that would force a closure,” he said. The school district continues to work closely with the Fulton County Health Department and follows the health advisors’ suggestions to the letter, he said.
“The data shows that schools are not spreaders of COVID. I tell people all the time that when their student walks through the doors of our buildings they are in the one place where you can be assured that safety protocols are being followed to the letter,” Lake said.
He believes remote learning lacks the same effectiveness of face-to-face instruction. “It is a temporary place holder so that districts can try to keep some form of education going, but it is a poor substitute for being in a classroom with a teacher and your peers,” he said.
Cupp said schools have not shown themselves to be a source of COVID-19 spread.
“Schools are basically seeing the outcome of choices that families are making,” she said. “I would just ask that families really think about the decisions that they’re making when they bring groups together. We, really, at this point, just need to stick with our family unit and get through these next winter months and see how we are doing when our weather warms up on the other side.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.