Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced a set of guidelines Thursday, laying out rules as school districts plan to return to in-person education next month.
“We’ve developed a set of guidelines … backed by science that each school should follow when developing their reopening plans,” DeWine said at his regular press conference Thursday. “This approach allows schools to adjust their rules to what works best for them to create a safe environment and one that will protect students and staff from the spread of COVID-19.”
DeWine said that while Ohioans did “an outstanding job” of transitioning to remote learning when he closed schools in March, he said Thursday that students must return to school this year.
“It is important to get kids physically back in school,” DeWine said. “While teachers and students did an outstanding job of implementing distance learning this spring, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended that students should be ‘physical present in school as much as possible’… and so to be able to keep schools open, each of our guidelines is designed to create the safest environment possible for our students and staff.”
The guidelines for districts include “vigilantly” assessing symptoms and sending sick children home; washing and sanitizing hands to prevent spread; thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing school buildings to prevent the virus from spreading on shared surfaces like tables; practicing social distancing, and implementing a face coverings policy.
“We know that each school system, and perhaps each school building, will likely look different in the fall,” DeWine said. “We also know that Ohio has a long history of local control and that school administrators and teachers know their schools best.”
DeWine added the state “strongly recommends” that students in third grade and up wear masks.
“Just as we have done in the business sector with employees, we are requiring school staff to wear face coverings to reduce the spread of the virus, unless it is unsafe or when doing so could significantly interfere with the learning process,” DeWine said. “When face coverings aren’t practical, face shields may be considered.”
Jennifer Ruhe, director of communications for Delaware City Schools, said Monday the district is already reviewing the governor’s guidelines as staff and students plan the return to school next month.
“Our district is reviewing the governor’s guidelines to help us refine the plans we have been working on over the past several weeks,” Ruhe said. “Several work groups have been evaluating every aspect of our school operations, including academics, food service, cleaning protocols, clinic operations, transportation, and more to determine the best practices for safely welcoming our students and staff back to school. We will work closely with the Delaware General Health District to ensure all plans meet safety regulations.”
Ruhe added the district plans to share more information next week about what the upcoming school year will look like.
“At this time, it is our intention to provide more detailed plans to our school community during the week of July 13,” Ruhe said. “Our plans will remain fluid and may change throughout the school year based on current health information or mandates from our local and/or state health departments.”
On Thursday, the Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators, and Ohio Association of School Business Officials praised DeWine’s guidelines and said flexibility is critical for school districts.
“We appreciate the thoughtful manner used to provide a framework that allows for local flexibility for school districts, coupled with reasonable approaches to health and safety considerations,” the organizations state in a press release issued Thursday afternoon. “We are particularly supportive of the broad flexibility and local control afforded to school district leaders through the school reopening guidance. This will allow for each district to make decisions that best suit its students, staff and community.”
The organizations added there is such a variety of districts and communities in Ohio that a “one-size-fits-all approach” would not work..
The release states the organizations have been working with DeWine’s administration and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria over the past several weeks.
“We will continue to work with our members as they partner with state and local health officials to ensure the health and safety of students and school staff,” the release states.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.