LEWIS CENTER — With the new school year just weeks away, and the COVID-19 landscape continuing to evolve, the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD) provided an update on the plans for its return to school during Thursday’s Olentangy Board of Education meeting.
In front of a jam-packed room of district residents at the Olentangy Administrative Offices on Graphics Way, Superintendent Mark Raiff highlighted the data the district continues to use to make its decisions on pandemic-related policies before stating masks will be strongly recommended, but ultimately, optional at the start of the school year.
“Our main goal is to keep students back in school, in person, five days a week. Students, as we know, do benefit best from in-person learning,” Raiff began by telling the board.
Raiff said the district’s priority is to continue its partnership with the Delaware Public Health District (DPHD) “because they’re our best resource to provide us with local data and guide us on the decisions we need to keep a safe and healthy environment.” In addition to the DPHD, Raiff said the district will continue to lean on guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Ohio Department of Health.
Speaking on the mask recommendation, Raiff said, “Our mitigation strategies are that we will follow the Ohio Department of Health guidance, which strongly recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wears a facemask in school. So, parents and individuals will have the option to have their children wear facemasks while in school or participating in school activities.”
Raiff pointed out DPHD Commissioner Sheila Hiddleson has the ability in the future to require masks in schools, but when asked on Thursday if she felt it necessary at the moment, Hiddleson said a requirement is not necessary at this time.
As for contact tracing and quarantine protocols, students and staff who have been vaccinated will not be required to quarantine if identified as a contact. Raiff said contacts who have consistently worn a mask in the building will be allowed to remain in school, although it will be “recommended they wear a mask and monitor their symptoms for 14 days.” Five days after being identified as a contact, the student or staff member can be tested to potentially remove the mask recommendation. “The best way to avoid quarantine is to be vaccinated and wear a mask,” he said.
Board member Lakesha Wyse expressed her concern about the students ages 12 and under who aren’t capable of getting the vaccine.
“I see both sides and what’s happening here with the arguments, but I’m just very concerned about our kids under 12 and our preschoolers,” she said. “I feel like we’re kind of looking at it like Ohio weather; you don’t know what you’re going to get with Ohio weather sometimes.”
Raiff, responding to Wyse’s concerns, stated, “We’re all concerned about all the kids every single day. Everybody has different levels of concerns that I think are important to them … There’s a level of risk that different people want to manage in different ways.”
“I believe what we’re trying to do is take a middle approach and manage our way through this to start our school year. We never know what the future is going to hold with regard to the pandemic, and anybody who really thinks they do is obviously much smarter than me.”
Masks will be required on buses at least through Sept. 13 as part of the standing federal order from the CDC regarding public transportation. Raiff said there’s been debate regarding the order and whether or not school buses are considered public transit. However, he said the district will follow the order as required.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.