‘It’s an emotional time for everyone’: Suspending activities latest big move for Middletown Schools

In some ways the decision to shut down all Middletown school sports due to recent increases in coronavirus infections was both one of the hardest and easiest , said the city schools’ leader.

Middletown officials announced Thursday the district was suspending all fall sports and activities indefinitely in the 6,300-student district due to the coronavirus threat.

ExploreMiddletown officially suspends fall sports, other activities for start of school year

“It’s tough because at the end of any decision I make are the kids,” Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. told the Journal-News.

“But my mission is to make sure students, community, staff and all the people we serve are safe,” said Styles, whose Butler County school system has been the most active in the region in recent weeks responding to the pandemic.

Among those students impacted are more than 550 athletes at Middletown High School and Middletown Middle School, which share a campus, and more than 100 members of the high school’s marching band.

Middletown was the first in the region to decide to shift away from starting the coming school year with in-person classes and instead ordered all students to learn from home starting Aug. 17.

ExploreMiddletown changes plans, says it will start school remote next month

And now the district is the first locally to suspend all fall sports and marching band, which will impact more than 650 Middletown High School and Middle School students.

“It’s an emotional time for everyone and our hearts go out to all our student athletes and students,” he said.

But Styles said he had no choice and that quick action now will increase the likelihood the district can return in the future to normal operations as quickly as possible.

“We are having more students and staff having to quarantine because of possible exposure and more testing positive,” adding that according to both local and state health officials, Butler County has one of the highest records of coronavirus infections in Ohio.

School officials cited recent reports from health officials of rising numbers of coronavirus cases occurring in Middletown and Hamilton as well as across Butler County.

“By suspending fall extracurricular activities, we are giving our students the best opportunity to get back to the classroom,” said Styles.

Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) official fall sports practices are to begin Saturday.

“If our families and friends want schools to open in the fall, we need to get serious and we need to mitigate the community spread. We need to social distance. We need to mask up,” he said.

Other area school officials are watching the Middletown Schools’ situation closely with some weighing possible changes.

“We are considering all options,” said Talawanda Schools Superintendent Ed Theroux.

“We are communicating with our health department, listening to OHSAA recommendations, and then ultimately making the best decision possible during this unprecedented time,” said Theroux, who added it such decisions are being forced by unprecedented challenges.

“There isn’t a COVID19 playbook. All superintendents, (school) boards, treasurers, staff, and families are making the best decisions possible for their communities,” he said.

Officials at Lakota Schools, which enroll 16,800 students and is the largest in the county, said they “will continue to follow the guidance of the Butler County Health Department with regards to extracurricular activities, as well as the OHSAA for athletics.”

Styles was joined in his announcement statement by Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips, who said the safety of school children is “paramount.”

“In this ever changing, complicated, emotional season we have been placed in, we cannot lose focus on what is most important. The focus should be on the safety of our children, educators, staff, and all the families involved as we move forward with the main objective of educating our youth,” said Phillips.

Middletown Schools officials said they are “in regular communication with the City of Middletown Health Commissioner as well as the Butler County Health Commissioner and the City of Hamilton Health Commissioner.”

“All three health departments are communicating the rising positive cases and community spread are cause for serious concern. If Middletown Schools do not take exceptional safety measures now, then the district jeopardizes the chances of returning to school in fall 2020,” stated school officials.

School officials said “in the State of Ohio, some school districts and local schools, including Middletown Schools, have confirmed positive cases amongst students and staff.

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