Pilot program to reduce number of quarantines could affect Clark, Champaign schools

Program is being tested in Warren County.

A test pilot program could potentially affect school districts in Clark and Champaign counties as cases and quarantines from the coronavirus increase.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine asked the Ohio Department of Health to work out the details for a pilot program proposed by Warren County’s 10 school superintendents that would allow unvaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 — who are healthy and exhibit no symptoms —remain in class at schools without a mask mandate.

Under ODH guidelines, students exposed to coronavirus should quarantine at home if they’re not vaccinated and their school doesn’t require face masks, social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention policies.

“If this is successful … this will be something that we would hope we would roll out and make available for our other schools around the state of Ohio,” DeWine said during a media briefing last week. “It’s one more effort, one more attempt to do everything we can do keep our kids in schools.”

School districts in Clark and Champaign counties are emphasizing mask use and implementing additional safety measures to keep kids learning in-person.

Almost all of the districts began this school year without requiring face masks for all students, except Springfield which requires them for all grades and Clark-Shawnee which is requiring them for two weeks.

In total, 86 student and staff cases were reported at nine Clark and four Champaign county schools on Thursday for the week of Aug. 24-30, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s school district dashboard.

In Warren County, school districts reported a total of 179 new student and staff cases for the same week, according to ODH.

ExploreClark, Champaign districts show over 100 COVID cases, hundreds quarantining

The multi-tiered pilot program plan provides when an unvaccinated student, who is not wearing a mask, is identified as a close contact, the following three options would be given to families:

  • Traditional quarantine: Ten days at home or return to school on day seven with proof of a negative test result on day five, six, or seven.
  • Mandatory mask quarantine: If symptom-free, student is allowed to return to school wearing a mask for 10 days.
  • Modified mask and testing quarantine: If symptom-free, student is allowed to return to school wearing a mask. On day five, student will have the option to take a rapid test at school. If the test results are negative, student will continue to follow the current mask status for their specific school and grade level.

Maria Lewis, the parent of a kindergartner and second-grader in the Tecumseh school district, said she thinks the pilot program is interesting.

“I look forward to seeing the results from the districts that are switching from traditional quarantine to this program,” she said. “An article I read about the pilot program mentioned that 80-85% of quarantined kids in that district never developed symptoms or tested positive. That’s a pretty big number of kids missing school. I understand the precaution of quarantining, but I do think kids need to be in school and stay in their routine to be successful at school. The pilot program also keeps the decision-making to the parents.”

Lewis said that there is an aspect of the program that she is hesitant about.

“One thing about the pilot program I’m hesitant about is allowing the school to do the testing. I would want to know more specific information about this, like what type of consent is required or if the parent can be present during the test, before I can say if I fully agree with that part of the program,” Lewis said.

Springfield City Schools, which started the academic year requiring masks for students in preschool through sixth grade, announced Thursday that the mask requirement would include students in seventh through 12th grades beginning Tuesday.

Officials in other districts in Clark and Champaign counties are pleading with everyone in their buildings to wear masks.

“While we have strongly encouraged masking, we do not see much masking in our schools. Therefore, we are now imploring everyone to please wear masks inside buildings so that we do not have to move to a mask mandate or completely virtual learning environment,” said Northeastern Local School District Superintendent John Kronour.

“We know that if we continue to see cases of COVID-19 within our buildings, even if those cases originate in our community and not in our schools, a mask mandate or some school closures are likely to occur. We intend to continue to provide face-to-face, in-person instruction for our students and continue to utilize the protocols we have in place, but again, we need the help of our students, parents and staff to achieve this,” Kronour added.

Kronour said the district is asking for help because positive cases have doubled since they posted their dashboard on Aug. 27. He said the numbers continue to rise with 24 students positive and 210 students in quarantine.

Triad Local Schools is another district that is “pleading” with students to wear a mask.

“I’m just putting a plea out so please consider asking your kid to wear a mask … I want to keep our kids in school,” said Triad Local Schools Superintendent Vickie Hoffman. “Every day that they’re face-to-face is important. So when people ask things like, ‘are we going to close down’ or anything like that, all I can say is, I now need your help. If you could please help us out, encourage your kids to wear a mask on the buses, encourage them to wear mask in the classroom.”

ExploreCOVID-19 in schools: When does Ohio recommend quarantining?

Students who wear masks are less likely to be quarantined, Hoffman said. She said on Wednesday, students at one building heard that and they all went to the office wanting a mask.

“Talk to your kids about it, help them understand it. This is simply about having something that’s protecting kid to kid so we can try to keep everyone in school,” she said. “Our plan is not to close. We’re doing everything we can on our end to keep us in school, so unless we couldn’t staff the building, we plan to keep kids in person as much as possible.”

Global Impact STEM Academy is emphasizing mask wearing and putting additional measures in place to help limit the spread and need for quarantines.

“Although we are not putting in place a universal masking policy at this time, I am encouraging, once again, any staff member or student who is not vaccinated to consistently wear a mask,” said Joshua Jennings, founding director. “We are also placing additional paper towels and cleaner in classrooms so that desks can be wiped down between each class change. Teachers will be arranging their rooms to utilize all available space. We have purchased a few portable air purifies and plan on getting enough for each classroom to run during the school day.”

GISA has seven positive and 50 quarantined cases. Jennings said there were an additional 11 students who would have been sent home, but they were either vaccinated or consistently masked.

Brandi Davis, who has a child at Global Impact STEM Academy and at Clark-Shawnee, said she agrees with parents making the choice when it comes to masking.

“Parents know better than anyone what is best for their own children. I definitely think they need to rethink the current guidelines. It doesn’t make sense to quarantine kids who are asymptomatic. They lose so much by not being in the classroom. I am also very concerned about their mental well-being. My kids love school and want to be there. Making them stay home because they were around someone who was sick just doesn’t make sense,” she said.

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