’Policies will change, adjust’

Highland Co. Health Dept. releases guidelines for schools

By McKenzie Caldwell - [email protected]

The Highland County Health Department released its guidelines for reopening county school districts Thursday evening.

On Friday, Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner told The Times-Gazette that the health department’s guidelines will adjust as needed.

“I want to make sure that we set the right expectation,” Warner said. “These policies will change and adjust as we get into school and as we better understand what works and what doesn’t, so I want people to go into starting school with that mindset. If we find something out there that works better, you’ll likely see it here. If something that we’re doing isn’t working very well, we’re going to fix it. We need to keep following and using the science to inform smart policies.”

In a 10-page document, health department staff wrote that the guidelines were created to develop a common framework for districts to use as they begin planning and preparing for the 2020-21 school year, but districts will also have the ability to shape some requirements based on their students’ and community’s needs.

Below are excerpts from the document in which the health department outlines guidelines for Highland County schools.

To view the full document, visit www.highlandcountyhealth.org/blog/2020/7/16/highland-county-covid-19-school-guidance.

“Understanding the Risk: COVID-19 Coronavirus likely represents a limited direct health risk to students and those 18 years old and younger, though there are reports of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) and serious illness is still possible. There are also questions about long term impacts of COVID-19 and how that might affect children. The greatest COVID-19 risk for school settings appears to be the inadvertently spreading COVID-19 to student households, extended family, and to school staff members and their families. This also presents the potential for increasing the overall rates of COVID-19 in high risk populations.

“Attending school in person has inherent risks, and it is not possible to remove these risks completely from the school. For students and parent volunteers with underlying health conditions or higher risk factors for significant illness, parents should reach out directly to schools to discuss school options. …

“The Highland County Health Department (HCHD) supports local school system decisions for reopening school, including a full return to a regular, 5-day school week, provided that appropriate prevention, mitigation, and response policies are utilized. The significant limitations of household internet access, household technology access, and nutrition access in the home make it very difficult for many Highland County students to participate in online or remote learning. The guidelines below are meant to mitigate many of the risks of close contact that occurs in a school building, and to strike the right balance between school health and safety and the educational needs of the community.

“No set of guidelines can completely capture all of the situations that a school system will face. When schools are considering safety precautions for special circumstances, they should consider these key recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“State school requirements, Ohio Public Health Advisory System changes, disease outbreaks in the area, and other factors could lead to a shift in how schools operate. Parents, students, staff, and public health leaders should all be prepared to adjust and refine these guidelines as information and circumstances change.”

Some of the policies and procedures local school district should adopt:

“Symptoms Assessment and Monitoring – Staff and students should be checked for fever before or immediately upon entering a school building or attending a school event. Anyone with a fever of over 100 F should not be permitted to attend school or participate in any in-person school functions. Each school system will determine the most effective and practical way to accomplish these health assessments.

“Social/Physical Distancing – Social /physical distancing is the most effective way of slowing the spread of COVID-19. When at all possible, all people in the school should maintain social and physical distancing.

“Handwashing – Students, parents, volunteers, and staff should be required to wash their hands with soap and water when entering the building and at regular intervals throughout the day. When soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer should be made available.

“Face coverings – Masks/face coverings are recommended for students in the classroom and in the school building. School bus and similar settings where it is not possible to practice social/physical distancing, and where symptoms screening does not occur prior to getting on the bus, masks use should be required for students and staff. Each school district will develop their own policies on mask requirements.

“Contact Tracing – Each school should implement a detailed, comprehensive plan for identifying close contacts if a COVID-19 case is identified in the school system. This will require assigned seats, detailed attendance records, and other documentation to identify the interactions between students at school. This information will be used to support health department efforts if a COVID-19 case is identified in a school.

“Be Flexible – Be prepared for taking a break in activities, changes of venue, canceled events, or a move to online schooling if case counts in a school appear to be increasing. …

“Absenteeism Policy – A non-punitive absence policy should be adopted by each school system. This policy should eliminate perfect attendance awards, allow for more flexibility in attendance based on community risk levels, family situations, and other factors.”

The Highland County Health Department also recommends that students use personal vehicles as transportation to and from school; however, when this isn’t possible and students must ride school buses, the health department recommends that students should be required to wear masks. The health department also recommends assigned seats for students who ride the bus, adding that children from the same household, classroom or grade should be assigned to the same seat. When possible, there should only be a maximum of two students in each seat.

Other recommendations include promoting good hand-washing practices, limiting passing items between students, and limiting outside visitors as much as possible.

In a post to the health department’s website, Warner wrote, “Our health department staff have been working with our community’s public and private school district leaders for the last few weeks to discuss and plan for how school is going to look in the fall. Your local schools have spent an incredible amount of time and effort taking these core planning concepts and figuring out the best way to implement them in their schools.

“As we all discuss back to school plans, I would ask that you be kind to our school leadership and staff. They have risen to every challenge thrown at them by COVID-19, and they are faced with some pretty tough choices for the fall. There is no way to make every parent happy, and there is no perfect solution. Let’s all remember that this is their first time trying to plan school during a global pandemic, and they are all trying to find the right balance between education and safety. Be patient, be supportive, and be kind.”

Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.

Highland Co. Health Dept. releases guidelines for schools

By McKenzie Caldwell

[email protected]