Most schools expect to reopen next week, but staffing still a concern

Students leave Haywood elementary in Troy on Monday, January 3, 2022. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Students leave Haywood elementary in Troy on Monday, January 3, 2022. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Huber Heights, Tipp City and Lebanon High School already committed to remote learning for next week

Most local school districts that closed Thursday and Friday due to staff and student illnesses say they expect to return to in-person classes on Tuesday.

At least 15 of the 40 school districts in Miami, Montgomery, Warren and Greene counties announced closures as of Friday after multiple students and staff were out sick or in quarantine.

“Last year, COVID was the main reason schools were closed,” said Tom Isaacs, superintendent of the Warren County Educational Service Center, which is assisting county schools with staffing and COVID-19 strategies. “This year it’s no staffing, with COVID-19 as the secondary reason.”

Isaacs said because of COVID-19, many people are afraid to work as substitute teachers. He also said one potential pool of substitute teachers, retired teachers, are not signing up because of health concerns.

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Shannon Cox, Montgomery County Educational Service Center superintendent, said several districts have increased substitute teacher pay and are hiring teachers as soon as the district is able to. Districts are holding job fairs this spring, she said, and will be attending career fairs this spring as well.

Cox noted the state continued last year’s COVID step of allowing districts to hire substitutes without college degrees, which many districts are doing.

Northridge Local Schools have been closed since Jan. 5, and students and staff are expected to return to in-person learning on Tuesday. Dave Jackson, superintendent of Northridge, said the district continues to clean the schools and requires masks. He said as of Friday, it appeared the district would be able to return on Tuesday

“The only way we would not return is if we do not have adequate staffing to operate effectively,” Jackson said.

Not all schools are returning to in-person classes next week. Huber Heights and Tipp City schools, as well as Lebanon High School, will be remote through Friday, Jan. 21 due to staffing shortages.

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Huber Heights Superintendent Mario Basora had said Monday that remote schooling would be a last resort, but in a letter to parents Thursday night announcing the closures, Basora said not enough staff were available to keep the schools open.

“At this time, we just do not have the staff or substitute coverage to maintain a safe and quality in-person learning environment for our students,” Basora said.

Chad Wyen, superintendent for Mad River schools, which has closed all but the elementary schools in the district until Tuesday, said there is no magic number of staffing or attendance that allows the district to stay open.

Wyen said the district is committed to keeping students in-person whenever possible, because remote learning is not a good solution for students. He noted the district has a mask policy in place.

Valley View announced in its closure notification to families that absences at the high school on Wednesday were at 25%. The district did remote learning on Thursday and used a calamity day — typically reserved for winter weather — on Friday.

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Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said the district expects to see staff and students back on Tuesday. Dayton Public is the largest school district that closed Thursday and Friday to give students and staff time to recover from illnesses.

Isaacs said Warren County ESC partners with the Butler County ESC to provide substitute teachers in all Warren County school districts except Mason.

As of Friday, all school districts in Warren County were closed except for the Warren County ESC special education programs and classrooms, he said. Isaacs met virtually with all Warren County school superintendents on Friday and all school districts are hoping people who have been quarantined will be ready to come back to work, and are planning to be open on Tuesday. He said the superintendents will reassess the situation next week.

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Mason and Kings schools in Warren County have mask mandates (only PK-6 in Kings). Isaacs said the primary reason for requiring masks is that it eliminates students from contact tracing. He said with the increased number of positive tests, school districts can’t keep up with the number of calls required for contact tracing as well as the actual contact tracing.

The ESC is also coordinating additional school nurses in the school districts and many nurses have been absent due to having or being exposed to COVID-19. Warren County commissioners provided more than $800,000 in ARPA funding to hire more school nurses to help local districts with contact tracing and other related tasks.

“Some nurses are working 14 hours a day,” Isaacs said. “It’s not sustainable.”

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Warren County school superintendents developed an optional pilot quarantine program last fall. The plan allowed students who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but were exhibiting no symptoms, to be remain in school with mask and testing requirements. Students had to test negatively twice to stay in school.

The Centerville school district sent a memo to parents last week saying it was “using every option” to avoid closing schools. Superintendent Tom Henderson said the district is having problems getting substitute teachers like other districts, but said “we are committed to using every option” for face-to-face classes.

“Our goal is to keep students in school in-person so we can continue to move forward with learning,” Henderson said in the message.

Centerville district data showed that through Jan. 8, about 30% of the district’s positive COVID-19 cases for the entire school year appeared in the first week after Christmas break.

Staff Writer Nick Blizzard contributed to this report.

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