School year review: Pandemic year wraps up as officials look forward hopeful for more normalcy

As area schools wrap up the 2020-2021 school year, which was the first full year in more than a century conducted during a global pandemic, officials are hopeful for a return to normalcy by classes start in August. Middletown teachers (pictured) were the first in the state in January to receive vaccination shots. (File Photo\Journal-News)
As area schools wrap up the 2020-2021 school year, which was the first full year in more than a century conducted during a global pandemic, officials are hopeful for a return to normalcy by classes start in August. Middletown teachers (pictured) were the first in the state in January to receive vaccination shots. (File Photo\Journal-News)

‘Things are getting better,’ says Lakota superintendent, after year area districts followed range of learning plans.

As area schools begin to close down for summer break officials are looking back and learning from the first full-year of classes during a global pandemic in more than a century of America’s history.

Not since the Spanish Flu, which was 20th Century America’s most severe pandemic, has the nation operated schools in any extended fashion similar to the coronavirus-impacted 2020-2021 school year.

There’s lots to learn from, said area school officials, as they prepare for the first, relatively normal summer vacation since 2019 and as the pandemic’s impact begins to wane.

“Things are getting better,” said Lakota Schools Superintendent Matt Miller during a social media chat this week.

“I’m excited to get back to where we were about 18 months ago with our kids and with our staff.”

ExploreSome area high school graduations returning to pre-coronavirus indoor venues

“I am cautiously optimistic about masks being optional next year,” said Miller of the coming start of the 2021-2022 school year in August.

“It’s still my goal and hope we can come back in August in pre-pandemic conditions and that would mean masks would be optional. But I don’t have that finalized yet but it’s something we’re working towards.”

Lakota, which enrolls 16,800 students and is the largest district in Butler County, was among the first in the region this school year to hold all in-school classes – at times on a hybrid schedule.

Middletown Schools took a different route at the start of classes last year and went all remote learning for its 6,400 students during the initial months of the 2020-2021 school year.

ExploreMiddletown teachers get Ohio’s first COVID-19 vaccine shots for school staffers

Other local districts followed their own variations of those two strategies and for school families it made for a historic, rollercoaster of class schedule changes that saw students learning in schools with masks and social distancing, learning on some days from home and for some families who signed up for it – an entire school year conducted via virtual learning.

The ebbs and flows of the coronavirus, eventually tracked by districts with online “dashboards” that tracked the number of students and staffers reported testing positive for the virus, interrupted the usual flow of school calendars, events, sports and more.

The school year also featured an unprecedented cooperation between area schools and local city and county health officials working together to monitor and react to spikes in infection rates.

In many area districts plans for changing schools, student class schedules, procedures and strategies for renovating, expanding or otherwise improving school buildings were put on hold due to the pandemic.

Lakota officials saw their once high-priority facilities planning and projection project, which was developing prior to the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, largely stalled.

But Miller said now, “our facilities plan is getting back on track.”

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