ONTARIO — Ontario students will be required to wear masks on the bus and in group settings, but not at their desks, according to a preliminary reopening plan discussed at Tuesday’s board of education meeting.
Director of Curriculum Mike Ream shared the most up-to-date version of the district’s plan for the upcoming school year. The plan will be finalized in conjunction with administrators Wednesday morning and a full version will be released later in the day.
Students’ desks will be spaced at least three feet apart, and farther when possible, in accordance to guidelines from the American Association of Pediatrics.
Parents of children who cannot wear masks due to a medical issue are encouraged to contact building principals, who will find a solution on a case-by-case basis. Superintendent Lisa Carmichael confirmed that children who cannot wear a mask for a medical reason will still be allowed to attend school.
Per state guidelines, all staff members will be required to wear masks during the school day. Teachers will also be required to take students’ temperature as they enter the classroom.
The district’s plan also touched on cleaning procedures, permanent seating charts and what would happen if a student or staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
Schools will likely be enforcing strict seating charts throughout the district, from the lunch room to the classroom, to facilitate contact tracing.
If a student or staff member were to test positive for COVID-19, Richland Public Health would handle contact tracing. Parents are asked to notify the school if a child tests positive or has possibly been exposed.
Ream said state guidance for schools included five “focuses of mitigation” — washing and sanitizing hands, cleaning and sanitizing schools, social distancing, face coverings and vigilantly assessing symptoms. Schools will be asked to incorporate as many of these practices as often as possible.
“They realize that it’s an impossibility for schools to have all five of these in every setting in every situation and function,” Ream said.
Ream gave the example of a school bus. While it will be nearly impossible for schools to enforce social distancing on busses, they can still take other steps such as daily disinfecting, requiring face coverings, assigning seats by family groups when possible and open roof vents for air flow.
Per recommendations from Richland Public Health, if Richland County were to go to a level three on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, face masks would become mandatory for all staff and students at all times. The district would shutdown and transition to virtual learning if Richland County reached level four.
Board member Amy Hiner asked if school should be in session under level three, noting that the guidelines for level three are to "limit attending gatherings of any number" and that while children are not at serious risk of COVID-19 related complications, adults are.
“We still have adults - teachers, bus drivers, that need to be considered," she said.
Ream added that the details of the plan were not set in stone and would be discussed further at an administrators meeting Wednesday. He also stressed that the plan will be updated regularly in accordance with state and local guidelines and is subject to change.
The board also unanimously approved a resolution condemning racism.
A two-year retire/rehire contract for Carmichael was approved by the board in a 3-2 vote, with Amy Hiner and Brett Baxter casting 'nay' votes.