‘Have a Plan B ready’: Butler County schools continue working in quickly shifting COVID-19 environment

All 8th graders at Talawanda Middle School have been ordered into remote learning until Sept. 30 as district officials try to stave off an uptick of covid quarantines and positive tests. Thursday was the first day the 250 eighth graders of the school had to learn from home. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)
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All 8th graders at Talawanda Middle School have been ordered into remote learning until Sept. 30 as district officials try to stave off an uptick of covid quarantines and positive tests. Thursday was the first day the 250 eighth graders of the school had to learn from home. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

The latest sign of the just-started school year turning into another coronavirus rollercoaster for area schools popped up late last week when one Butler County district had to order all its eighth-graders home.

The decision by Talawanda School officials was forced, they said, by an upward spike in the number of quarantined students at its middle school along with more students testing positive for the coronavirus.

ExploreCOVID positives, quarantines force shut down of 8th grade at local school

The move, which affected 250 eighth graders and their families until Sept. 30, comes in the wake of some other area school systems in Warren County – Lebanon and Carlisle schools – already having to close down schools earlier this month due to the jump in Covid quarantines and positive tests.

ExploreLebanon, Carlisle schools reopen after pausing due to COVID-19, other seasonal illnesses

There’s more to come during the continued pandemic, warned Talawanda Superintendent Ed Theroux.

And he said both area school officials and school families should be prepared to be flexible if periodic, remote home learning becomes a regular feature during the rest of this school year.

“There will be bumps. Have a plan B ready,” said Theroux. “Just like families prepare for early dismissals, late starts, and school closings during inclement weather, we all need to have a plan B ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“All staff and superintendents are aware and vigilant with the implementation of their COVID-19 safety and health protocols. Being flexible during this pandemic is critical to being proactive in mitigating COVID-19 spread.”

The temporary switch to all remote learning is a useful tool in lowering student, staff absences due to quarantines and positive tests, said local school officials.

Carlisle Superintendent David Vail said earlier this month he believed the three to five days off during his district’s pause in live classes helped students.

Vail said the district had a few positive COVID-19 cases after the shutdown with about 105 students in quarantine. He said students were absent also for various seasonal illnesses such allergies, colds and strep throat.

A new state testing pilot program may help keep more students in live classes, said Warren County school officials.

ExploreWarren County school’s ‘Test & Stay’ pilot program begins next week

Some Butler County schools have applied to participate in the same state program.

School districts in Warren County will begin its pilot “Test & Stay” program as early as Tuesday in an effort to keep more healthy students in the classrooms instead in quarantine at home due to the continuing pandemic.

The superintendents of Warren County’s school districts created this plan to enable students who are exposed to COVID-19 but who do not have any symptoms of illness will not be required to quarantine if they have a negative test at day three and again between days five to seven. The pilot plan was reviewed and approved by the Ohio Department of Health.

“We believe in the power of partnership in Warren County. Our school districts saw a problem and wanted to be part of the solution,” said Tom Isaacs, superintendent of the Warren County Education Service Center. “We appreciate the Governor (Mike DeWine) and Dr. (Bruce) Vanderhoff (ODH director) and their teams’ work to create this Test & Stay pilot. We are also grateful to the county commissioners for their quick decision to use their federal funds to help us keep our schools open with this pilot.”

Theroux, however, still cautions patience and understanding are keys to weathering this latest version of the pandemic.

“Stress is at an all-time high for everyone. Be respectful and patient,” he said.

“Remember we are all neighbors before this pandemic and will be neighbors now and in the future. Together, we will get through whatever the pandemic throws at us.”

Staff Writer Ed Richter contributed to this story.