Lebanon schools see mass COVID quarantines, may require masks

Lebanon City Schools will weigh changes to COVID safety protocols at a school board meeting Wednesday night, as almost 10% of district students are in quarantine or isolation due to COVID.

Lebanon was the first Dayton-area district to resume classes, starting Aug. 10-12, and they made masks optional. Superintendent Isaac Seevers said as of Tuesday afternoon, the quarantine number was just shy of 500 students and climbing in the 5,200-student district.

Seevers would not say outright that he will ask the board for a mask mandate at Wednesday’s meeting.

“My priority, first and foremost, is to keep as many students in school as possible,” he said. “Under the current guidelines of the health department, the only way to reduce the number of quarantines is to vaccinate or have a mask on. As a district we are not going to be requiring the vaccine for our students. So we have very few options available to us to keep kids in school.”

Seevers said in one positive COVID case at Lebanon Junior High last week, 33 students were identified as close contacts by county health officials. Because only one was masked and five vaccinated, that one case resulted in 27 quarantines, which can keep a student out of school for two weeks.

“Had we had a mask mandate, only two students would have had to quarantine,” Seevers said.

State and local health officials strongly recommended that everyone wear masks in schools this fall, warning that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is more contagious than the original strain and is more likely to make children sick.

Statewide COVID case numbers have been rising significantly over the past month, and Fairfield Local Schools, southeast of Wilmington, just closed for a week due to a huge surge in COVID and other illnesses.

Of the school districts that started classes two weeks ago, Northmont schools reported 13 new COVID cases last week among students and staff, Kettering reported 22 new cases and Lebanon 23.

“Our board wanted to make a decision based on local numbers. We’re not Mason or Dayton or Cincinnati,” Seevers said. “We now have two weeks of data to realize that spread is happening in our buildings. Cases are rising in our district. Not everyone is going to be happy, but if we can make a decision based on the numbers and the facts we’re seeing, it’s harder to argue with that.”

Mark Graler, Lebanon schools’ director of curriculum and instruction, said the district moved to an automated system “to help us manage the number of family contacts needed due to quarantines.”

The district is using automated School Messenger calls to inform families of COVID-19 exposures. Lebanon warned families not to ignore calls from an 800 number, as it will not be the school district’s number that shows up on parents’ phones.

“We’ll likely have more quarantines this week,” Graler said.

Like most local school districts, Lebanon is not offering an online option for students this year. Teachers are asked to put daily assignments into the Google Classroom or SeeSaw platforms for the hundreds of students in quarantine to try to keep up with.

Lebanon did provide one unique option this year — parents of students in kindergarten through sixth grade could opt their students into a 100% mask-required classroom. Seevers said they had enough kids opt-in to fill one classroom at each of those grade levels.

“It is a wonderful research experiment that will provide us with some data (Wednesday) evening,” he said.

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