School districts ‘need to customize’ plans to reopen with COVID-19

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

It is Wednesday, July 8, 2020. These are the five things you need to know about the coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic today.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Guidelines for bus seating, face mask policies, alternative lunch rooms, and how long COVID-19 positive students/staff must be fever free to return to school are among recommendations local health officials have made for districts planning to reopen.

Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County on Thursday released more than two dozen recommendations as local districts seek to resume in-person classroom instruction after being shut down in March due to the coronavirus.

General principles to guide each school district in Montgomery County as they move forward to reopen include implementing recommended safety protocols “to the highest degree possible” and being “transparent with all stakeholders that some level of risk will always be present,” the four-page PHDMC document states.

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“Although there are some general ideas contained in our recommendations that apply in every situation, each school district is unique in terms of the number of students, location and types of buildings, so they will need to customize their plans to meet this guidance,” said Jennifer Wentzel, director of environmental health with PHDMC, in a statement released by the agency.

Among the guidelines:

•Students or staff diagnosed as having COVID-19 with symptoms must go three days with no fever before returning to school;

•Utilizing other areas such as classrooms and library for lunch areas;

•Seating charts on buses to assist with contact tracing if that is needed;

•Staff and students are encouraged to bring their own water to minimize use and touching of water fountains.

The Dayton Daily News reached out Thursday afternoon to several Montgomery County superintendents regarding the agency’s recommendations and how they would impact their district’s operations, budgets and targeted opening dates.

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Some said they were still evaluating the guidelines and others did not respond.

Kettering City Schools Superintendent Scott Inskeep said he was “not able to answer….questions due to the newness of this information.”

Area school district leaders talked on Monday with PHDMC officials for more than an hour in reviewing guidelines Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced last week. Local educators also sought clarity for in-person instruction as starting dates approach, said Dan Suffoletto, public information supervisor for PHDMC.

Due to COVID-19, Ohio is requiring school staff to wear face coverings when school starts and is strongly recommending students in third grade and up wear face masks, according to guidelines set by DeWine.

Schools will have to implement their own face coverings policy, assess students and staff for symptoms, wash and sanitize hands, clean and sanitize schools and practice social distancing, according to the state.

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Inskeep said in a message to the district last week that after Monday’s meeting with PHDMC he planned to have the district’s Back-to-School Task Force. The panel would “take the state and county guidelines and weave them into a reopening plan” to start classes by “mid-August.”

Dayton Public Schools has announced an Aug. 17 start date while Huber Heights City Schools Superintendent Mario Basora said his district’s board of education was set to meet Thursday night to vote to start classes Aug. 27 instead of the original date of Aug. 13.

Centerville City Schools had set an Aug. 19 start date with a goal of “in-person learning,” but the district is now re-evaluating that date, Spokeswoman Sarah Swan earlier this week.

Of the school districts in Miami County, meanwhile, Miami East schools plan to open Aug. 26. The Tipp City board of education last month agreed to change the school calendar to move the opening of school for students from Aug. 20 to Aug. 31.

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Both districts have been surveying the community on the issue.

“We are eager to have students and staff members back in school, but we must balance a return to the buildings with a focus on keeping students and staff safe. No doubt this school year will look unlike any other,” Mark Stefanik, Tipp City schools’ incoming superintendent.

Troy City Schools Superintendent Chris Piper said that district’s board of education will be asked Monday to discuss reopening plans further. A draft restart plan will be adjusted to reflect guidance received from the state, he said.

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Recommendations from Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County include the following guidelines for area schools planning to reopen:

Food service

Food service will be determined by each district in compliance with Public Health requirements:

• No self-service using common utensils or shared condiments (salad bars etc.)

• Utilize other areas such as classrooms, library etc. for lunch areas.

• Public Health recommends assigning seats.

• Drinking fountains should be cleaned and sanitized, but encourage staff and students to bring their own

water to minimize use and touching of water fountains.

• Clean and sanitize chairs and tables between seatings of students for meals.

• Cafeteria occupancy will be determined based on each individual circumstance with the maximum amount

of safety considerations possible. Separation recommendation, based on Ohio School Guidance, is 6 ft

where possible.

Classroom occupancy

•Districts will inform parents that 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, but

being in a public place has a certain level of risk that cannot be eliminated.

•Classroom occupancy will be determined based on each individual circumstance with the maximum amount of

safety considerations possible. Separation based on Ohio School Guidance is 6 feet where possible.

•Face masks are recommended for all students in grades 3 - 12.

•As with other businesses, all school staff and volunteers must wear face masks

unless it is unsafe to do so or where doing so would significantly interfere with

the learning process. There are exceptions to this as listed in the Ohio guidance.

•Schools must develop a face mask policy.

•Public Health recommends assigning seats.

•Public Health recommends no sharing of school supplies (no pooled resources.)

•All students should have their own crayons, scissors etc.

Transportation

•Districts should attempt to seat siblings together.

•Seating charts are recommended to assist with contact tracing if that is needed.

•Face masks are required for drivers and highly recommended for students if social distancing cannot be maintained.

Recess

•School districts will make every effort to maintain consistency with other safety procedures.

•This may mean that districts limit student access to certain pieces of playground equipment and restrict activities

that are “high touch” and difficult to clean or maintain social distancing.

•Students must sanitize or wash their hands after recess.

Specialty classes

•Due to the nature of band, choir, theater, and other similar classes, 6-feet social distancing may not be adequate.

•Teachers and students should maintain as much distance as possible when actively playing and performing.

Library items should be removed from circulation for 72 hours after item is returned.

Visitors/volunteers

•There are different levels of school visitors, and each district will make decisions for each situation.

Visitors are generally discouraged from being in school district facilities. If visitors are present, a face mask is required.

•Safety protocols such as taking temperatures and monitoring health symptoms will be implemented for all visitors.

Cleaning/sanitizing

•Public Health strongly recommends that approved sanitizers and cleaners be used: EPA sanitizers and cleaners

effective against COVID-19

•Schools must clean surfaces frequently, paying close attention to high touch areas and shared materials, and make sanitation wipes or disinfectants labeled for use against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) available in each room and common space. The sharing of supplies and materials should be minimized and if items must be shared, sanitized between each user.

Water systems

•To minimize the risk of Legionnaire’s disease and other diseases associated with water, take steps to ensure that

all water systems and features (e.g., sink faucets, drinking fountains, decorative fountains) are safe to use after a

prolonged facility shutdown.

•Drinking fountains should be cleaned and sanitized, but encourage staff and students to bring their own water to

minimize use and touching of water fountains.

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