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Governor offers schools options for reopening

Local districts work to make best decisions for safety

For schools to reopen in the fall, policies will be put in place including requiring school staff to wear face masks, with exceptions, and a “strong recommendation” — but not a requirement — for students in the third grade and up to do the same, Gov. Mike DeWine said.

He outlined the policies for reopening schools at a Thursday news conference.

School districts also will need to assess vigilantly COVID-19 symptoms, require people to wash and sanitize hands to prevent spread, thoroughly clean and sanitize school buildings and practice social distancing, DeWine said.

Face masks are required for school staff unless it is unsafe or “interferes with the learning process,” he said.

If face masks can’t be used, the option of using face shields exists, DeWine said.

“We’ve created K through 12 school guidelines, backed by science, for schools to follow when developing their reopening plans,” he said. “Schools can adjust their rules to what works best for them for a safe environment and that protects students and staff.”

Local school districts and administrators will have control over implementing the policies, he said.

Weathersfield schools Superintendent Damon Dohar expects the district’s school buildings to reopen in the fall.

Trumbull County school superintendents have been meeting at least once a week through June — either in person or online — discussing options, according to Dohar.

“We have plans,” Dohar said, “depending on varying factors, and, in accordance to the Trumbull County Department of Health.”

Dohar said discussions have examined different scenarios, which include having masks and hand sanitizers available for all students riding on buses.

“Buses will be thoroughly cleaned after every use,” he said. “Students will be instructed how to get on and get off the buses, so they are not passing students.”

Dohar said school days may be shortened from 7.5 hours to 6.5 hours. The district is working on plans to minimize the number of times students have to move from classroom to classroom during school days.

“We will have more cleaning in high-traffic areas,” he said.

Parents who feel more comfortable having their children staying at home will have an online component available to them, Dohar said.

“There are discussions about having plastic barriers at student desks,” Dohar said. “Our goal is the keep our kids safe, ensure cleanliness of our buildings, and to limit movement .”

Dohar said each school district has unique characteristics that may affect decisions on whether they will reopen fully or do some hybrid program.

Warren schools Superintendent Steve Chiaro emphasized the district will not be ready to announce plans for its reopening until late July.

While DeWine was stating that most Ohioans support their children returning to school buildings in the fall, Justin Jennings, Youngstown schools chief executive officer, said he plans for the city schools to be online only.

Those plans could change, he cautioned, based on advice he receives from county health officials and what will be happening with the spread of the virus.

“We are planning to start online,” Jennings said.

“Everything is subject to change, depending on the conditions,” he said. “We have been following reports out of the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and health departments. Our goal is preserving human life and providing quality education.”

In preparation, Jennings said the district has used a portion of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to make sure each of the district’s students will have access to laptops and computer equipment.

The school district purchased additional laptops when its in-building classes ended in March and distributed them to students.

“We’ve collected them and inventoried all those given out,” he said. “We are going to assign them and any other laptop that’s one to two years old. Some older laptops will be held for secondary use.”

Over the summer, Youngstown teachers are being given further training on using Google and Apple classroom instruction.

Jennings said he has been looking at other urban school districts and their plans for reopening.

“We still have an opportunity to have a hybrid model,” he said. “Last year taught us to be prepared for any scenario.”

Still, he does not want to open school buildings too early. “Our focus has been on the health of our scholars and our staff,” he said. “What if we have teachers getting sick? It could become difficult to get substitutes.”

“We know that each school system — and perhaps each school building — will likely look different in the fall,” DeWine said. “We also know that Ohio has a long history of local control and that school administrators and teachers know their schools best.”

It’s important for students to physically get back into classrooms, he said.

To best practice social distancing, DeWine said schools could stagger lunch times and class schedules.

Reopening schools safely will result in “unforeseen expenses” for districts, DeWine said. He said he’ll work with the Ohio General Assembly to provide federal funding from the CARES Act to help with the costs.

Because of declining revenue from the pandemic, DeWine announced May 5 a $355 million cut in K-12 education. He said Thursday that he had no other choice but to make that reduction.

On March 12, the state ordered schools closed until April 3 because of the pandemic. That was then extended to May 1 and later through the rest of the school year.

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