Thousands of area students return to classrooms with precautions and more cases

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

This week saw the first opening of classes for some of Butler County’s largest school systems, who are welcoming back students while also helping them navigate the new school world of coronavirus prevention.

Both Hamilton and Fairfield Schools, with a combined enrollment of 20,000, began in-person classes for some of their students as part of alternating-day schedule to lessen the number of students in schools, making social distancing easier.

Monroe started classes Monday, and Talawanda began remote learning, a strategy employed by Middletown Schools starting last week. Mason also began in-person classes this week under a modified schedule.

“Now that we’re settling into our ‘new normal’ and families have had the opportunity to choose the best learning option for their children, we’re excited to return to learn - and that includes assessing students’ learning and giving grades,” said Mason Schools spokeswoman Tracey Carson.

But for some districts that new normal now includes working closely with local city and count health officials in monitoring for any students, teachers and school staffers who test positive for the coronavirus.

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Madison Schools was the first in the area last week to report a student testing positive for coronavirus after classes had opened. School officials communicated to the Butler County Health Department, which ordered the student to quarantine at home for two weeks.

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A Madison school staffer, who had been in proximity to the student during a lunch period, was also ordered to stay home for 14 days.

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At this point there are no state-mandated procedures for schools to publicly report to all school families any positive test cases but all districts are communicating each instance to county and city health officials.

Local health officials then conduct contact tracing of students and staffers, informing school families whose children may have been infected. Health officials then counsel families to self-quarantine.

There are no statewide or national data clearinghouses for such data, according to officials with the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Education.

Neither Fairfield, Hamilton school officials responded Tuesday to requests about any positive tests among its students or staff.

Mason school officials said their procedure is to release each Friday the latest number of positive tests and as of last Friday – back to July 1 – there have been seven confirmed cases among students and staff.

Lakota Schools, which began an alternating-day schedule for four days of in-person classes last week but this week started a five-day schedule, had a smooth opening but also has reported Tuesday a student testing positive for the coronavirus.

“One student at Heritage Early Childhood School has tested positive for COVID-19,” said Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for Lakota.

Fuller said the district has been and will continue to work closely with the Butler County Health Department and “we have alerted anyone who is considered high or low risk.”

“Additionally, we have informed families at the school about the positive case, just as we would for any other illness,” she said referring to the policy all schools have used for years in reacting to seasonal spikes during the winter of flu cases.

With some area schools holding alternating-day schedules, classrooms are less crowded, and the usual excited atmosphere of the first days of a new school year is now more subdued with fewer students present.

“The day (Monday) was very quiet and the mood in the schools was very positive,” said Fairfield Schools spokeswoman Gina Gentry-Fletcher.

“The students seemed to be adjusting well to their new normal, and teachers and staff were accommodating with mask breaks, explaining the new rules to students and sharing reminders about safety protocols.