Parents split as school districts work on COVID-19 reopening policies

Belmont High School still has a faded COVID-19 sign on the front door of the school Thursday July 9, 2020. Guidelines for bus seating, face mask policies, alternative lunch rooms, and how long sick students must be fever free to return to school are among recommendations school officials are looking at. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Guidelines released this week for Montgomery County school districts to reopen classes amid COVID-19 have educators reviewing how to work within them and parents concerned about sending their kids back to classrooms.

With the release of recommendations from Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County on Thursday, local districts can begin finalizing plans to reopen schools for the first time since March, when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered them shuttered due to the coronavirus.

A Dayton Daily News online poll conducted Friday indicated respondents were split on having their kids attend classes in person or online.

Many parents said they’re apprehensive, expressing concern that returning to classrooms in August may be too early for Montgomery County, which DeWine recently labeled a Level 3 area that has “a very high exposure and spread” involving the virus.

Those parents fear students — especially young ones — will not understand safety precautions outlined by the Ohio Department of Health and local health district.

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Trotwood parent Jameka Parker is the mother of two children — an eighth-grader and a junior in high school — who said she doesn’t plan to send them back to school anytime soon.

“If we have to create all these rules to be safe, then why are we forcing to go back in the building?” Parker asked. “I understand that we have to get the kids back in school. But we’re working so hard to get them back in, we could work just as hard to come up with a workable platform for them to work from home.”

Many school districts are developing plans to do both. But Parker — as did other parents — said returning students to the school classroom is premature, noting that she is worried about the health of the teachers and that requiring masks will hinder education and cause distractions.

One retired longtime science teacher and current area school board leader called the undertaking of returning students to school buildings “a huge, huge learning process for everybody.”

Survey results

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Of 137 people responding to the Dayton Daily News online survey by late Friday afternoon, 45 said they wanted their students in district classrooms, 54 said they did not, and 38 said they favored both in-person and online instruction.

Survey respondent Katie Richard said she favors sending students to schools.

“Mask wearing needs to happen,” Richard said. “And everyone in the school community needs to get on board with the safety recommendations so schools don’t get shut back down.”

Richard said parents need to be aware of their children’s heath and take appropriate action. If not, “we are going to be back to square one.

Among those planning to keep her child — a seventh-grader — at home is Terri Adoff of Kettering. Adoff said she disagrees with the guidelines and recommendations, noting a guarantee of keeping students only two feet apart is unacceptable.

“It’s a terrible plan,” Adoff said. “It’s really sad. All of this is sad and scary.”

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Kettering City Schools is still developing its plan. Public Health’s more than two dozen recommendations for school districts in the county cover issues involving transportation, classroom occupancy, food service, recess, sanitation and water systems, among them.

Public Health said local districts will “need to customize their plans,” something on which many districts are working. Yet even after the release of Thursday’s recommendations, Centerville City Schools website stated “any plans will be fluid and could change rapidly.”

With the coronavirus, “things are so fluid. It changes every day,” said Miamisburg City Schools Board of Education President Dale Toadvine.

Toadvine said he has spent more than 60 years in Miamisburg schools as a student, teacher, parent and school board member. He also has several grandchildren enrolled in the district.

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“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” he said, and “we’re going to follow whatever the medical recommendations are.”

Finalizing plans

The coronavirus is complicating many aspects of the public education process, Toadvine said, and raising multiple questions that don’t involve the classroom.

What “If a kid can’t get to school because you don’t have enough bus drivers? (What) if they get to school and you can’t feed them because there’s problems with cafeteria people?

“You have to get them home,” Toadvine added. “You have to have the janitorial service to make sure that there’s sanitization that takes place properly. It’s going to be a huge, huge learning process for everybody.”

He said he hopes Miamisburg is able to finalize its policies and procedures in the next week.

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Toadvine was one of several Montgomery County educators, including superintendents, board of education members and teachers’ union leaders, the Dayton Daily News reached out to Thursday and Friday.

Kettering City Schools Superintendent Scott Inskeep said in a posting on the district’s website Friday that its task force on reopening “has been hard-at-work this week developing a detailed plan to reopen our schools in August. We are still on-target to release the full plan to you by the end of the week of July 20.”

Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said he would review the Public Health recommendations this weekend. After the recommendations were released Thursday, a posting on that school district’s website stated “with the increase in COVID-19 cases in Montgomery County, we need more time to discuss our learning options.”

The district has reviewed more than 5,000 surveys from students, parents and teachers, and “collaborated with area school districts, consulted with (Public Health), and gathered input from building principals and teacher advisory teams,” according to Thursday’s posting.

“Please keep in mind that any plans will be fluid and could change rapidly based on the spread of virus in our community,” it stated.

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