Area school leaders reviewing impact of state’s new student quarantine options

Area schools are moving fast to review and consider adopting new student quarantine and mask recommendations from Ohio state officials in a strategy designed to reduce the number of students forced out of live classroom learning. The new guidelines are being evaluated by local schools - with the help of Butler County, city and other health experts - and most districts anticipate releasing new guidelines to school families in the coming days. (File Photo\Journal-News)
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Area schools are moving fast to review and consider adopting new student quarantine and mask recommendations from Ohio state officials in a strategy designed to reduce the number of students forced out of live classroom learning. The new guidelines are being evaluated by local schools - with the help of Butler County, city and other health experts - and most districts anticipate releasing new guidelines to school families in the coming days. (File Photo\Journal-News)

Area school officials are still reviewing recently released state quarantine guidelines but early reactions show many welcome the changes as key to keeping more students in school.

But one local superintendent criticized state health officials as continuing to put local school systems under pressure of making medical policies in battling the spread of the coronavirus.

Since the onset of the pandemic quarantining of students due to their proximity to classmates who tested positive for the coronavirus has forced many out of live classroom learning, disrupting their education and playing havoc with school family schedules.

The latest Ohio guidelines, based partly on a test program in Warren County, focus on students and staff exposed to the virus wearing face masks and getting tested to allow them to continue with classroom learning and school-related extracurriculars.

ExploreNew state student quarantine rules grew out of Warren County pilot

The changes apply to preschool through high school. Schools can immediately begin implementation, but they are not required to adopt the state-issued guidelines.

Officials in the Lakota school system, the largest suburban district in southwest Ohio, are still going over details of the policy but anticipate telling school families of new procedures soon.

Lakota officials noted on their district website they are “in the process of reviewing the guidelines with local medical experts and the Butler County General Health District.”

Middletown Schools Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. said much the same in his report to the district’s governing board during Monday evening’s school board meeting.

But Styles’ initial reaction was favorable for the changes and what they could mean to keeping more students and staff in the city schools.

“This is a change in protocol, so we have to revisit how we monitor who is required to wear a mask … and those are things we need to figure out,” he said, adding the district is huddling with Middletown health officials as well as those from the county as to how to proceed.

And superintendents in Butler County are also communicating on how to move forward, he said.

“All the districts are kind of racing to try to figure out some of the plans around this change of protocols,” said Styles.

Hamilton Schools Superintendent Mike Holbrook released a statement noting how harmful the quarantine exclusion of hundreds of students has been in recent months and noting the district’s acceptance of the new, more lenient state guidelines for its 10,000 students.

ExploreHamilton City Schools change quarantine and mask rules, following state’s lead

Holbrook thanked parents, guardians and students for their understanding in recent weeks, saying the more stringent policies that were in place allowed “over 800 students that would have been quarantined to attend school safely and regularly.”

“Quarantining students at home exposed to COVID-19 in a school environment,” Holbrook said, “has the unintended consequence of reducing in-school learning and can strain parents, schools, and local health departments.”

Holbrook thanked parents, guardians and students for their understanding in recent weeks, saying the more stringent policies that were in place allowed “over 800 students that would have been quarantined to attend school safely and regularly.”

But Talawanda Superintendent Ed Theroux said any initial enthusiasm for the new quarantine guidelines was tempered but his continued frustration with state officials.

“While I am happy that the Warren County pilot is successful, I am disappointed that, once again, the Governor’s office and Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has placed these decisions on the backs of local school boards,” said Theroux.

“School administrators - or school board members - are not medical experts, and public health decisions should not be made by public school officials.

“This recommendation by ODH, while it is a step in the right direction, has not resolved the COVID19 pandemic and has pitted individuals against each other. People are divided, and the pandemic has become a huge political issue,” he said.

Staff writer Mike Rutledge contributed to this story

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