Monday, July 6th, 2020

Districts seek safety answers

By William Kincaid

Then-freshman Rebekah Fiely cleans out her locker on May 19 at St. Marys Memoria. . .

Local school district superintendents and health officials will convene this week to address Gov. Mike DeWine's directives about reopening schools during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down nationally.
Most teachers will be required to wear masks or face shields at Ohio schools that resume in-person classes this fall, and face coverings are strongly recommended for students in third grade and above, DeWine said Thursday as he shared long-awaited guidance for educators considering whether and how to reopen.
Local superintendents, though, said they have more questions than answers at this point concerning DeWine's directives, but said they and their principals and school board members either have already or will begin formulating plans to reopen schools.
"We do have a couple of planned meetings here among administrators and talking to the health district … making sure our plan fits for Mercer County," Celina City Schools Superintendent Ken Schmiesing said. "We'll probably be meeting with the rest of the superintendents also in Mercer County, making sure that we're all kind of sticking together and giving a common message out to the school communities."
Other superintendents made similar statements, saying they'll have more concrete details once they talk with health district officials.
"We're going to have a meeting with the local health district on Tuesday and then our administrative team and our teachers union is going to get together by the end of the week and then the board of education will release our plan in a couple of weeks," Coldwater Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Jason Wood said.
Some superintendents said they will seek clarification on which safety measures are required and which are simply recommended.
"We're going to be meeting with the local health department … on Tuesday, and we'll be discussing those (points) and which ones are required and which ones are guidelines and how those will work in our schools," Parkway Local Schools Superintendent Jeanne Osterfeld said.
It's crucial that school officials enact safety measures that don't hurt the learning process, Marion Local Schools Superintendent Michael Pohlman said.
"We're going to have to ask ourselves the question. 'If the teacher or the staff member is maintaining 6 foot of social distance do you need the mask? You've got all those questions, and I think we're going to have to answer them before we put them in a guideline," he said. "What do we value as a community and think is important for the safety and health of our students, versus what are guidelines and what is a required mandate."
Superintendents are also considering whether to offer remote learning via computers to students and teachers with underlying health conditions.
"All doors are open right now until we finalize our plan," Wood said.
Pohlman said he is pushing for as much traditional, face-to-face learning in the classroom as possible but pointed out he would definitely entertain the idea of remote learning for students with compromised immune systems.
"We will make it a safe environment that all students should be able to come into Marion Local School District buildings and receive a good education because that is going to be the best education, face-to-face," he said.
Osterfeld said she anticipates some parents may have concerns about their children returning to school.
"We respect the fact that there will be parents that are either uncomfortable or that there's a medical situation in their family, and we will be making accommodations for those families," she said.
Celina City Schools officials are exploring those options as well.
"If they need to be taught at home we have to look to see if there's any flexibility we can leave in the plan to allow for that to happen," Schmiesing said.
Additional details will be released in the coming weeks.
"We are looking at putting together a plan. It's called a remote-learning plan, and we need to have that approved by the board here this month," Schmiesing said. "There is a possibility similar to last (school) year that the Ohio Health Department might shut us all down and demand that we go to remote learning so we want to have a better plan in place than what was thrust upon us last March."
State officials are urging educators to use social distancing, vigilantly assess symptoms, provide hand sanitizer and thoroughly clean school spaces, but the guidance leaves many details up to the districts. With widespread agreement that it's important to get children back into school buildings when safely possible, the guidance is aimed at balancing safety, local control of schools and the state's obligation to educate children, DeWine said.
Schmiesing pointed to some of the safety measures to be enacted for the upcoming school year, including the cleaning of surfaces during and after school each day.
"We are installing touch-free bottle-fill-stations in place of drinking fountains," he said. "So rather than a kid putting their mouth down and putting their hand on a drinking fountain to use it, here now they can just fill their bottle up and they're good to go with water."
- The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Additional online story on this date
Staff and Wire Reports
Marion Local graduate Luke Knapke's team, Mid-American Unity,  became the third team removed from The Basketball Tourname [More]
Subscriber and paid stories on this date
CELINA - Five new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Mercer County since Friday, raising the county's total number of confirmed cases to 279.
The Auglaize County Health Department has not updated its COVID-19 statistics since Thursday, when it reported 96 confirmed cases and 10 probable cases.
CELINA - The 2020 LIA Bar Stool Open has been canceled due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and concerns about player and judge safety, according to a news release.
CELINA - Mercer County Sheriff's Office has reopened to the public its lobby that had been closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, a moratorium on onsite inmate visits remains, according to a post on the sheriff's office social media page.
Local players shine on summer golf tour
The phrase "Naumann wins" has been a common occurrence in the newspaper during this summer's Lima Junior Golf Association tour. 
With a month's wo
Holiday Roundup
Compiled by Gary R. Rasberry
New Bremen plated eight runs in the top of the sixth to rally from a four-run deficit to beat St. Henry 10-6 in summer baseball action on Friday at the Wally Post Athletic Complex.