What will school life be like for Butler County students? No dances, no field trips, no visitors

Like many area schools, Hamilton High School is dotted with warning signs regarding coronavirus precautions as students return to the city school district Monday. The impacts of coronavirus safety protocols are deep and widespread, say local school officials. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)
Like many area schools, Hamilton High School is dotted with warning signs regarding coronavirus precautions as students return to the city school district Monday. The impacts of coronavirus safety protocols are deep and widespread, say local school officials. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

As more area schools prepare to open Monday, those on the front lines of coronavirus prevention say the many safety protocol impacts will be widely felt.

Almost every aspect of daily school operations are being affected, from the visible, such as mandatory masks and social distancing, to the unseen, like the complications forced onto class schedules, college admissions and the emotions of students returning to schools for the first time in nearly a half year.

“I do think we will be seeing more social and emotional student needs in our office based on what is going on,” said Hamilton High School Counselor Matt Bradley, whose district will start classes this week.

“I think that Covid has rocked quite a few families, and eroded some of the standard social support networks, so the schools will be even more of a safe space for some students this year.”

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Masked students forbidden from congregating during and after school means no after-school clubs operating as they normally did. There will be severely limited attendance at sporting events, no school dances, monitored and restricted recess periods, no field trips, no visitors, no volunteers and lunch periods with students sitting too close to socialize.

For some area high schools there will be no college, military or job fairs at high schools where students could talk face-to-face with university representatives getting answers about their futures. And no school assemblies or pep rallies.

Some classes will be held outside when weather allows, including marching band and choir practices.

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Grading is largely unaffected, said school officials, but what remains largely unknown is how individual colleges will process the academic records.

High school students were unable to take the SAT and ACT college admission tests after the March shutdown of all Ohio K-12 schools and through the summer break. Some universities have waived the admission exams, but that approach is not universal, said area high school counselors.

All the while, even at the schools holding in-person classes, thousands of students’ classmates will be absent as their parents choose remote learning through December.

And some schools – like those in Middletown and Talawanda – aren’t even in session as those districts are trying all-remote, learning.

The school day will be strangely lonely compared to previous years as staggered schedules - with some students attending on alternate days – will have buildings half occupied.

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Officials in Edgewood Schools said the numerous safety protocols are necessary.

“Edgewood is focused on providing a safe learning environment for our students and staff when they return to school. We are taking many steps to ensure this,” said Superintendent Russ Fussnecker.

“While these are dramatic changes, compared to how we have operated in the past, we know these efforts will assist in maintaining a safe environment for everyone,” Fussnecker said.

Regardless, while school officials acknowledge the many deviations from the normal learning environment forced by coronavirus, they do so while also expressing confidence their schools can adjust.

“While we know we’re returning to learn in a pandemic - and that learning looks different this year - our schools have been creatively figuring out ways to pull off the (positive experiences) that go beyond the learning that happens inside a classroom,” said Tracey Carson, spokeswoman for southern Warren County’s Mason Schools.

Some of the 10,000 students of Fairfield Schools begin returning to classes Monday and they will be entering a radically altered education world than we they were ordered home in March.

“This will certainly be a school year like no other as we continue to find the safest possible way to provide a well-rounded experience for our students. They lost so much at the end of last school year,” said Gina Gentry-Fletcher, spokeswoman for Fairfield Schools.

Joni Copas, spokeswoman for the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools, echoed the can-do attitude of other area school officials in saying “in this most unusual time for school districts, I am most impressed with all the staff members who are working so diligently for our students and families.”

“They have been faced with new challenges every day and have found solutions,” said Copas.