Just when it seemed Fulton County school districts could ease up on COVID restrictions due to widespread vaccination, the virus’s Delta variant has thrown a wrench into the works.
The superintendents of the seven districts jointly released a statement last week entitled Fulton County Schools’ Common Opening Agreement, which updates coronavirus-related information for the 2021-22 school year. As with last school year, in-person instruction is available but with a long list of safety guards to protect students and staff from COVID.
The Delta variant, which first appeared in India, is much more contagious than previous variants and currently dominates COVID-19 cases in the United States.
According to the agreement, all county school districts will continue safety protocols issued last year at the height of COVID-19. And all will confer regularly with the Fulton County Health Department to determine which precautions may eventually be eased or strengthened.
The protocols will include daily health assessments by both students and staff members, who are each recommended to take their temperatures before entering school and staying home if it reaches above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or they’re experiencing COVID-related symptoms. Other rules include the districts remaining transparent about the level of risk involved in entering a school building, and maintaining operational consistency while also acknowledging the possibility of inconsistencies arising due to coronavirus.
All of the school districts agree to communicate when a positive COVID-19 case is identified and contact the appropriate parties; cooperate with the health department’s contract tracing and quarantine requirements; and acknowledge the health department’s definition of coronavirus exposure as consistent with statewide protocols. For example, those fully vaccinated will not be subject to quarantine if exposed unless symptoms appear, and unvaccinated subjects wearing a mask and practicing social distancing will also not be quarantined.
Food service will be available, but cafeterias will be sanitized between lunch periods and students will be asked to wash up before and after they dine.
In the classroom, “Safety protocols are in place but any student who attends school will incur some level of risk. Districts will decrease the likelihood of infection with hygiene, cleaning, and safety procedures. Students will be encouraged to sanitize their hands regularly,” the joint statement said.
The school districts are still strongly recommending masks for unvaccinated students and staff members; due to the rise in Delta variant cases, masks may become required in the school districts at a later date.
Per federal orders and other guidance, everyone must wear masks on school buses, vaccinated or not, until Sept. 13. At that time, the order could be revoked or extended. Students will sit two or three on an individual bus seat, and siblings will be encouraged to sit together. Seating charts may be initiated to assist contact tracing efforts.
Again, unvaccinated subjects who wear a mask and practice social distancing will be not require quarantine.
And while each school district will consider building visitors on an individual basis, visiting is discouraged on campuses during school hours. Visitors who may be accepted must follow safety protocols.
There are different levels of school visitors, and each district will make decisions for each situation.
Student congregating may be discouraged after school.
The joint statement says the Fulton County Schools’ Common Opening Agreement may be subject to change as the school year progresses.
Wauseon schools superintendent Troy Armstrong said parents were not involved in developing the protocols. He added, “Students learn best in-person and the countywide agreement provides a safe learning environment for our students.. Please keep in mind we were in-person last year as well and many of our mitigation strategies will continue.”
Archbold Area schools superintendent Jayson Selgo said mandatory masking would be the result of a state order. “In that instance the order would likely establish a timeline,” he said.
This same group of superintendents worked closely last summer, as well, “and Fulton County schools had successful in-person learning every day during the 2020-21 school year,” Pike-Delta-York Superintendent Ted Hasleman said. “That statement cannot be said for many areas around the state and even other areas of northwest Ohio.”
Haselman pointed out that the joint agreement’s guidelines and recommendations are subject to change if COVID conditions change. “We will keep our eye on the local conditions and adjust if necessary,” he said.
FCHD Commissioner Kim Cupp reviewed the draft document of the superintendents’ agreement.
“Fulton County is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases,” she said. “Families are urged to vaccinate those who are eligible and keep symptomatic students home. Masks are very strongly recommended in the indoor school environment and other indoor public spaces due to the current increase in cases. Each of us has a part in preventing illness in those not eligible for vaccination and preventing continued spread of COVID-19.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.