Last local schools begin classes; others return from closure

Of the 12 largest districts, 8 require masks for all, 2 have no requirement, and 2 have a mix

The final four local school districts began 2021-22 classes Tuesday, just as some of the earlier starters were returning from multi-day COVID-related closures.

At Mad River, Valley View and Piqua, parents were posting happy first-day student pictures, and at Greenon, students were exploring their brand-new school building.

“We had a great first day,” Piqua Superintendent Dwayne Thompson said. “Staff and parents did a wonderful job of preparing students for the first day of school. ... It was so great to see our students again!”

Thompson said Piqua “will continue to watch our data as we begin school and work hard to keep our schools open as we did last year.” But the district is leaving masks optional for now, except on buses, where they are federally mandated.

Over the weekend, Mad River announced it would require masks for preschool through sixth grade, after initially saying masks would only be recommended. District officials said they had watched other school districts’ back-to-school approaches in recent weeks, which in some cases led to significant COVID cases, quarantines, and even school closures.

“Not only does this have a negative impact on students, but it also puts a burden on families who have to take time off work or arrange for childcare for their younger students,” Mad River officials said in announcing masks for PK-6.

Schools reopening

The Lebanon and Carlisle districts, as well as Wayne High School in Huber Heights, reopened their buildings Tuesday following temporary closures last week due to surges in student absence due to COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Lebanon schools had more than 800 students in quarantine or ill last week (over 15%), but that number dropped to less than 130 students Tuesday, according to Superintendent Isaac Seevers.

“Attendance is up and the overwhelming majority of students were wearing masks,” he said.

Seevers said of the 1,650 students at the high school, only 12 students have requested an exemption from the new mask requirement.

Wayne High School had planned to stay on remote learning until Sept. 15, but returned Tuesday after the Huber Heights district implemented a mask mandate for all schools. Wayne had closed a week earlier due to an “overwhelming” spike in COVID-19 cases that Superintendent Mario Basora said was nearly triple the district’s previous high.

Carlisle Superintendent David Vail said he thinks the district’s three to five days off helped students. Despite having over 100 students in quarantine last week, Carlisle is still only recommending masks, not mandating them.

“I’m seeing a lot more masks being worn today,” Vail said. “More students are wearing masks and modeling the example being set by staff and administrators.”

Mask rules, illness

For comparison, of the area’s 12 largest school districts, two have no mask requirement (Troy and Miamisburg), two require masks for grades PK-6 (Northmont and Springboro), and the other eight require masks for everyone (Dayton, Centerville, Kettering, Beavercreek, Huber Heights, Lebanon, Fairborn and Xenia).

School policies have changed frequently as COVID realities changed in their communities. Miamisburg officials said their mask policy “could change at any time.”

Troy school officials said they have seen mask usage increase in the past week-plus since school leaders openly begged families to voluntarily wear them. But they said they still would like to see the mask rate go up even more.

According to Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County, the age range with the highest COVID case rate as of Sunday was kids age 10-18. Roughly 16 of every 1,000 local children that age were COVID-positive in the previous 21 days.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, 1,424 children under the age of 18 have been hospitalized with COVID over the course of the pandemic.

Not back to normal

Valley View did a split start to the school year, with roughly half of students in class Tuesday and the other half coming Wednesday. Their school board decided last week to require masks for all students and staff indoors.

“The unanimous goal for the district is to do everything possible to keep students in school every day,” district officials said, citing high quarantines and school shut-downs elsewhere. “This implementation gives us the best opportunity to remain in person for learning and keep our students healthy. We will revisit this regularly.”

Greenon schools started the year Tuesday with masks recommended, but not required. The big change there was the opening of the district’s brand new K-12 campus school facility, built in cooperation with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.