Area’s largest school district reopens classes for new year

Butler County’s largest school system reopened its school doors for a new year Tuesday with parents and students sharing optimism and some lingering concerns.

With a staggered start that saw only half of Lakota Schools’ 17,200-students attending classes the first day – and the other half attending today– the district mirrored a scheduling used by many other area school systems designed to better ease into a new school year.

Students filed into Lakota West High School in West Chester Twp. early Tuesday morning as district officials optimistically touted the third consecutive school year to begin under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic as possibly the one they hope will be least impacted by the virus.

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“We are so excited to welcome our students back to school this week,” said Matt Miller, superintendent of Lakota, which is the ninth largest district in Ohio.

“COVID forced us to press pause on many things over the past … years and we’re looking forward to getting back to normal. That means focusing on education with more collaboration, innovation and, of course, student and staff voice,” said Miller, who was up and out before dawn overseeing the opening of 24 school buildings in West Chester and Liberty townships.

Besides established precautions against the virus — student masking is optional — Lakota has also added more armed school police officers to its two high schools.

Lakota West parent Tara Green, whose daughter attends the school, said “it’s good to know she is safe and being protected at all times.”

Green praised the district for addressing the virus’ unprecedented impact on all schools and worries of parents about school security, especially in the wake of May’s shooting massacre at a Texas elementary.

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“The whole COVID and security issues have been a priority for Lakota, along with academics.”

Fellow Lakota parent Julie Wazhter has four children in the district and said “I always like seeing increased police presence for school safety in general.”

“I’m pretty much impressed in general with how Lakota has handled every issue,” said the former teacher.

Kaitlyn Johnson, a Lakota West junior, paused before walking into the high school and another school year and said threats of violence, whether real or fake, is a part of modern day schooling.

“For the most part I feel safe here but you really can’t control the threats other people make. I know there are some real threats but there are some people (students) who are just trying to get out of school by making threats that are false,” said Johnson.

Fellow junior Audrey Kloth said the high schools now having two police officers helps to ease her security concerns.

“It’s a big school and the SROs (school resource officers) are good and talkative with the students and that helps,” she said.

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