Public Health recommends all Montgomery County schools start online

Classrooms like this one may sit empty this fall if schools follow Public Health Dayton-Montgomery County's recommendation to begin the year online.  NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Classrooms like this one may sit empty this fall if schools follow Public Health Dayton-Montgomery County's recommendation to begin the year online. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Agency suggests halt to contact sports and other "high-risk" extracurricular activities

Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County on Friday recommended that all Montgomery County K-12 schools should begin the school year remotely and discontinue “high-risk extracurricular activities” including band, choir, theater and contact sports.

Montgomery is one of 13 Ohio counties at Level 3 of the state’s four-tier Public Health Advisory System based on COVID-19. Level 3 calls for “limiting activities as much as possible.”

“Montgomery County has observed increased community spread (and) an increase in infected individuals seeking medical care ...” Public Health said. “Clusters of COVID-19 cases are occurring in workplaces, churches, childcare facilities and social gatherings.”

Public Health officials said their new document is a recommendation, not an order. Agency spokesman Dan Suffoletto said it was being distributed to schools Friday afternoon.

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Currently, Dayton, Trotwood, Huber Heights and Jefferson Twp. schools have announced plans to begin the school year online, as have the DECA, Horizon Science and NHA charter schools.

The county’s other 12 public school districts plus were planning to give families a choice of in-person or online education. Several schools planned regular five-day-per-week classes, while others including Centerville and Oakwood were pointing toward hybrid models.

Northmont Superintendent Tony Thomas called Public Health’s report “a compelling document” and said the district will share it with families so they understand the information. He said educators need help and support from health experts in their planning.

“We will start discussions first thing Monday morning and try to communicate as quickly as we can if we’re going to change our plan,” Thomas said.

Mad River Schools Superintendent Chad Wyen said his district plans to “stay the course” so far, highlighting nearly a dozen safety steps the schools are taking. Every Mad River student must wear a mask, and Wyen said a hybrid two-days-on, three-days-off plan at the middle and high school means buildings will be at less than half capacity, making social distancing easier.

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Friday’s document from Public Health says as of Monday, Ohio had 7,236 COVID-19 cases among people age 0-19, with 418 of those in Montgomery County. That means 11.7% of Montgomery County’s cases came from school-age people — higher than the state’s 8.5% ratio, and higher than the five other largest counties in Ohio.

“It is ultimately the decision of each district regarding the mode of learning selected, and Public Health supports districts which choose a remote, in-person and/ or hybrid option,” the statement says. “Districts which choose to offer in-person classroom learning … should follow Public Health’s COVID-19 K-12 School Guidance.”

That guidance document gives recommendations on masks, classroom and food service protocols, symptom monitoring and responding to infected individuals, among other steps.

Wyen said the Mad River district is using a special GermStop disinfectant program on school surfaces and working with Dayton Children’s Hospital on an easy-to-use document for staff, explaining proper responses to a variety of possible COVID-19 questions.

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Public Health called social distancing and wearing a face covering “the two most effective strategies for limiting spread of the virus,” and said those steps are difficult in music/theater activities, as well as fall contact sports such as football, soccer and field hockey.

The recommendation came the same day that the Ohio High School Athletic Association said the fall high school sports season will go on as planned.

“It is important to keep athletic activity moving forward,” said Dan Leffingwell, president of the OHSAA Board of Directors. “We believe our member schools provide our student-athletes with the safest possible environment to return to play and that our school programs are the best avenue to help students learn lifelong lessons and provide social, emotional and physical benefits that other programs cannot.”

Montgomery County health officials said Friday they understand that extracurricular activities are important factors in the development of children.

“However, the sustained spread of the virus within our community warrants adjustments to best protect the health of our community,” Public Health said. “By following these recommendations we not only protect the students, but we protect the school staff and student’s family members.”

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Greene County Public Health had previously recommended schools have no in-person choirs or choruses, saying, “Singers are at a very high risk for transmission for COVID-19 because of the amount of aerosols potentially generated.”