Coronavirus reversal: More Butler County schools choose return to normal classes

Thousands more area students are closer to returning to all in-person classes as five local districts in the last 10 days have decided to soon resume everyday school operations despite coronavirus concerns.

Starting with Hamilton Schools, followed soon after by Monroe and then Middletown, Talawanda and Fairfield schools, leaders in each district cited declining or zero cases of students being infected with the coronavirus for deciding to resume normal schedules.

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But the governing school boards – and top district officials – didn’t make their decisions to return to a normal schedule in a vacuum.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in March – forcing by state order the closing of all K-12 schools through the spring and summer – all area school districts have been in nearly daily communication with city, county and state health officials for information and advice.

Intervention specialist Joni Crow talks to her students during a remote online meeting Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 at Middletown Middletown School. Middletown students have been learning remotely this year and will start face to face classes later this month. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

But the final decision fell to district superintendents and their overseeing school boards, said Butler County’s top health official.

“It is the role of the local health district to share data and consult with schools,” said County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer.

“However, it is not the role of local public health to tell schools what they must or must not do. All decisions about whether to be in person, hybrid (alternate day attendance), or online is the sole decision of the local school board along with their superintendent,” said Bailer.

Though Butler County has been frequently listed into the Level 3 alert by the state for its relatively high number residents testing positive for coronavirus, students in K-12 schools have not been a major contributor to that status since schools opened in late August and early September.

By district, county and state tallies the number of positive tests in recent weeks for area districts have often been less than a handful and sometimes zero – as in the last week at Middletown Schools.

“The number of covid cases in our Butler County schools has been fairly low. We are told that mask wearing has been going very well with our school children, and this is likely driving this success,” said Bailer.

Kay Farrar, health commission for the city of Hamilton, said the safety measures enforced by the 10,000-student city schools played a big role in her recommendation to return to a normal schedule.

“After four weeks of in the classroom hybrid model, we have not had any student become positive from exposure in the classroom setting,” Farrar said. “This model was very helpful in easing back into school.”

The 16,800-student Lakota Schools made the decision during the summer start in August in a hybrid schedule and then a week into it switch to a normal, in-person classes.

While more than 3,000 Lakota students started the school year and still remain in the districts learn from home program known as the Virtual Learning Option (VLO), as of Sept. 25, five students have tested positive for the coronavirus.

From day one, students and staff in live classes were required to wear masks and adhere to numerous safety protocols each school day.

“Our students and staff are doing a great job and we appreciate the support of our parents and community,” said Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for Lakota.

It’s a sentiment echoed by the districts deciding now to return to five-day school schedules.

“We could not be more appreciative of our families and their support of Monroe Schools to prevent the spread of covid-19 in our schools and community,” said Monroe Superintendent Kathy Demers.

ExploreAnother Butler County district will return to in-person classes during coronavirus concerns

“Students came to school in the first quarter and wore their masks and practiced physical distancing and proper handwashing without missing a beat. Our staff, families, and students have been tremendous through these challenging times,” said Demers whose district will see all students return to normal classes on Oct. 20.

School districts, which have all details and dates regarding their schedules available for school families on their websites, are still offering the virtual learning option for those parents worried about their children possibly contracting a coronavirus infection at school.

Talawanda Schools joined Middletown and New Miami Schools by opening the school year with all remote learning from home.

In recent weeks, some school parents in Talawanda complained and protested outside the district’s central office for a return to in-person and this week the board approved a return to normal scheduling.

ExploreWhat you’re saying: Talawanda parents protest district’s remote learning decision

“They’ve given children a choice,” said Talawanda school parent Jesime Hartbarger.

“I’m personally pleased because my kids can return to that school environment, getting a more sustainable education. It’ll help them stay better focused, confident, and feeling less disheveled with the destabilization of what they perceive as a normal, fulfilling life,” said Hartbarger.

Hamilton school parent Katie Simpson won’t miss the alternate day schedule class schedule.

“I believe that children learn better around other children their age. Not to mention that the socialization and just being around friends is a huge benefit,” said Simpson.

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