ONTARIO -- Nearly two weeks after implementing a mask mandate for students and staff, Supt. Lisa Carmichael reported that things are going well at Ontario Local Schools.
“We've seen a huge decrease in the number of cases and our attendance has greatly improved,” Carmichael told the school board Tuesday evening.
Ontario began classes on Aug. 18. During the first three weeks of school, 72 students tested positive for COVID-19.
The district began requiring masks again on Sept. 1 -- midway through the third week of school. Eighteen students tested positive the following week. Two more students have tested positive this week.
Rates of absence have gone down by almost two-thirds. Carmichael shared that the district was averaging between 295 and 327 students absent each day at the end of August.
“I'm very pleased to share yesterday's attendance, we only had 135 absences,” she said. “Today was exceptional, we only had 107 students absent.”
Carmichael recommended the board leave the mask requirement in place, at least for now.
“It is my biggest hope that I can come forward sometime in the near future and possibly recommend that the masks could go away, but at this time, I'm just not comfortable doing that," she said.
“Our main goal and our main focus is to keep schools open,” she added. “The last thing we want to do is to go to remote learning. That's not the right answer.”
Carmichael stated about 97 percent of students are complying with the masking requirements.
“We do have a couple students that have submitted a religious exemption and a couple that do not want to wear them. That's not something we're fighting,” she said. “All of our staff are wearing masks.”
Alejandro Carrizal Ramos, a senior at Ontario High School, addressed the board in favor of the mask requirement. He told board members he is vaccinated and doesn’t mind wearing a mask all day at school.
“There’s about 15 kids that are hospitalized with COVID-19 per day in Ohio,” he added, referencing a Sept. 9 article from the Ohio Capital Journal. “At Nationwide Children’s Hospital, there’s about 26 kids that are hospitalized, nine in the ICU and five on ventilators.”
Carrizal Ramos also asked the board to consider requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for eligible staff and students now that the Pfizer vaccine is FDA-approved.
The student said he addressed the board because he is concerned about the health of his peers and teachers, especially after seeing a family member hospitalized due to COVID-19.
Matt Mackey, a parent in the district, addressed the board and thanked them for not enforcing the mask requirement for his children.
“We don't want our child wearing a mask," he said. "We use the philosophy of faith over fear."
Mackey shared his personal opinion that masks are not effective. He noted that they aren't effective at filtering out smells.
Mackey also shared numbers from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), on the number of adverse reactions, hospitalizations and deaths reported after a person received the COVID-19 vaccine.
In other business, Assistant Supt. Mike Ream discussed a recent meeting with the Ontario Police Department to discuss safety and security at Stingel Elementary. The district has contracted with a company to install ballistic film over the windows of approximately 40 doors with large glass panes on the top half. The film will make it significantly more difficult to break out the glass and gain entry to a room.
Ream said the film will buy teachers and students two or three minutes until law enforcement can arrive.
“Hopefully it’s never ever used. But if we ever found ourselves in that situation, I don’t think you can put a price on that time,” he said.
Ream also gave an overview of the district's federal programs, including the third round of COVID-19 relief funds.
The district received $1,260,341 in ESSER III funds as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Schools are required to spend a minimum of 20 percent of ESSER III funds on instruction — Ontario spent $278,000 total on curriculum and after-school tutoring payments for teachers.
“All these grants have a lot of rules and regulations for how you spend the money,” Ream explained.
The district spent an additional $49,0000 of the funds on custodial equipment and $49,000 on upgrading the ventilation system in the high school science rooms. The remaining $884,341.57 was spent on salaries, which frees up money in the school’s general fund.
The district will also receive additional ARP funding for special education. Ream said the budget for that funding is yet to be determined.