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Students return to school as COVID looms

A sign outside Clinton Elementary School reads "All CCS Schools Closed 3/16 to 5/1 - Wash your hands!"
Ryan Hitchcock

Schools have been busy cleaning, disinfecting and preparing classrooms for students heading back to school. Their goal like any other year is to keep kids safe but COVID continues to figure into plans.

South-Western City Schools starts the new school year on Wednesday. Evan Debo, executive director of communications and community relations for South-Western City School District, said the district to ready to move students back to the classroom.

“When we resumed starting to 24th and moving ahead it will be very much and how we ended the year our families and Southwestern city that is emblematic of kind of a change in Ohio Department of Health guidance, “said Debo.

The Ohio Department of Health updated its COVID-19 guidance for students ahead of the new school year. They recommend students stay home from school for five days when they are ill and test positive for COVID-19.

ODH no longer recommends widespread masking and COVID testing for schools. Instead, state health officials ask people who feel ill to stay home and away from others – just as they would with other illnesses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also updated its guidelines Thursday. The agency no longer recommends quarantining if a person comes into close contact with someone with the virus regardless of vaccination status. The CDC has also dropped its suggestion to keep six feet apart from others.

The new guidance has Regina Fuentes, a long-time Columbus City Schools English teacher and spokesperson for the Columbus Education Association, feeling nervous as the new school year begins.

“You know it makes me nervous it does make me very concerned I want everybody to make proper choices as far as the safety of our students is concerned however people are feeling COVID fatigue," she said.

Despite that, she hopes that everyone takes the proper precautions if they are not feeling well.

“I would hope that people would put safety first and do what's best for everyone involved and try to keep everyone safe but that's not always the case so it definitely creates you know some nervousness moving into this new school year,“ she said.

Parent Penelope Hyatt admits she remains a bit concerned as she sends her kids back to school, but recognizes the benefits of being back in the classroom.

“I just felt like you know the kids are ready to get back to school and have that social interaction and you know be able to have that time with their friends, “ Hyatt said.

Other parents like Casey Hanks said they are also glad the kids are going back in-person, but she is not concerned about COVID this year.

“I'm feeling very good about this year. I've got four kids and they are all very ready to go back to school and ready to be back to normal and have a full and fun school year, “ said Hanks, who was school shopping with her kids in Grove City.

Debo said despite a positive trend in COVID cases and numbers recently released, Southwestern City Schools and other districts must be realistic when they open the school doors.

“School leaders need to be ready to exercise their judgment and exercise their flexibility to temporarily impose requirements if it's necessary to keep schools open for in person instruction, “ Debo said.

The district will continue the new COVID best practices.

“And you know being diligent and judicious with our heightened cleaning protocols, working with you know our Property Services team to make sure that high touch you know high frequency use fixtures and handrails and all those types of things are being sanitized on the regular to that we're doing what we can, “ he said.

All in hopes of a smooth start to the brand-new school year.

Williams was a reporter for WOSU. Natasha is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has more than 20 years of television news and radio experience.