BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Anthony Wayne Local Schools students will return to school on a hybrid schedule, after the board of education voted against following the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department’s (TLCHD) recommendation to teach remotely through October 1.
During their August 10 meeting, board members each shared concerns and questions as they weighed their options: stick with a plan released by the district on July 22 or follow an advisory released last week by the health department.
In the days leading up to the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jim Fritz and board members were inundated with phone calls and e-mails with opinions on both sides of the issue. On August 9, a group of parents and students stood outside the Finzel Road campus to express support for the plan. By the time the board opened its meeting on Monday morning, nearly 450 viewers had logged into the live stream on YouTube to listen as each of the members discussed the options.
The ultimate goal, despite personal opinions, is to make a decision that keeps students and staff safe, board members agreed.
“It’s a very difficult decision to make. Fifty percent are not going to like it and 50 percent are going to agree,” said Pam Brint, who was the only board member to vote in favor of following the health department guidelines. “I think we need to default to the opinions of the experts which is our local health department, and think about the potential consequences to our students and staff. It (COVID-19) is on an uptick again. It’s probably going to continue.”
The most recent TLCHD data at www.lucascountyhealth.com shows that the Waterville, Whitehouse and Monclova ZIP codes have the lowest rate of COVID-19 cases in the county, between 1 and 65. However, the 43537 ZIP code, which includes portions of both Maumee and Monclova Township, has the second-highest rate of cases, between 326-390. It’s impossible to know whether those high numbers are specific to the city of Maumee, nursing homes or if they’re among households with students in Anthony Wayne Local Schools, Fritz said.
He also noted that cases in the 0 to 18 age group have grown from .61 percent in March to 10 percent of the population. Since early July, 10 Anthony Wayne High School athletes have tested positive and another 10 athletes and two band members were placed in self-quarantine. One junior high athlete was sent home based on symptoms. Among employees, three tested positive and three were placed in self-quarantine.
According to the Ohio COVID-19 Risk Level Guidelines (www.coronavirus.ohio.gov) which assigns a color to the four levels of the public emergency, Lucas County is currently in Level 3, or red.
A 120-member committee of staff, teachers and board members created a detailed plan that includes tying the type of attendance in school to the current public emergency level. At yellow, the lowest, all students would attend. In orange and red (Level 2 and 3), students would go to school two days a week, with A-L attending on Tuesday and Wednesday and M-Z on Thursday and Friday. If the county reaches the highest level of emergency, purple, all school will be held remotely.
Doug Zimmerman initially said he was on the fence, as he looked at the possible negative consequences of bringing back the 4,400 students into the buildings, even in a hybrid model.
“It’s not a question of if we have a case but when we’ll have a case. I struggle with when is the right time to stop. Is it one case, two cases, 10? And heaven forbid that we have a death in our community, whether it’s a student or staff because we’ve made that choice,” Zimmerman said. “I really want these kids back in school, but I also know that the risk is there.”
Board president Jeff Baden, who was on the committee to create the plan, said he weighed every piece of evidence and made a risk assessment.
“I really wish they (the health department) would have said we recommend remote learning based on the color coding and the numbers where your district is located. They didn’t say that. Part of our job is to make that decision for the district,” Baden said. “We have the best plans in place. We have high expectations that we can implement these.”
Jayna Gwin said it was community input that influenced her decision, among other factors, since she was elected to represent the community. She noted that parents overwhelmingly want a choice, and with the option of an online academy, choices are available for those who don’t want students attending school in person.
In a survey, 83 percent of parents said they want students back in school. Of those, 47 percent want the schedule to be five days a week while 38 percent asked for a hybrid schedule. For the 15 percent who choose remote learning, the district has an online academy.
“We have a responsibility to listen to those in the district. They’re asking for an option and we need to consider giving them an option,” Gwin said.
Vicky Ryan said she’s “been around the block several times on this” as she considers the risks, but in the end she believes the plan gives parents options.
“I think the plan that the administrators and committees worked on this summer is excellent. I think it meets so many needs. However, when those children come back, it will not be the same. It’s going to be very different,” Ryan said.
Fritz agreed, explaining that, in order to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ohio Department of Health and TLCHD, the setup for in-person education will require changes more than additional cleaning and putting X’s on the floor. Students will be required to wear face masks, sit in assigned seats on the bus, classroom and lunchroom, stay six feet away and not socialize next to lockers or outside the bus.
Zimmerman implored parents who rallied for the plan to get behind it.
“One thing that weighed heavily was e-mails from parents who say their kids won’t wear a mask. It’s not just your kids. It’s others,” Zimmerman said. “We have a good plan. If this is going to work it’s going to take everyone working together and doing their part.”
He asked that parents start talking to their kids now about what school will look like. Parents should take their childrens’ temperature before school every day, and talk to them about wearing a mask and social distancing.
“Let’s not screw it up. Please, please, please let’s do our part and do it right,” he said.
With the board’s vote, Anthony Wayne, for now, is the outlier in Lucas County. Based on last week’s TLCHD recommendation, several districts decided to start school remotely, including Maumee, Oregon, Ottawa Hills, Springfield, Sylvania, Toledo and Washington Local.
The board did not vote on athletics, but Fritz and other superintendents met with the TLCHD afterward. For now, Anthony Wayne will follow the Ohio High School Athletic Association and Ohio Department of Health recommendations and continue with practices for contact sports and competitions and practices for non-contact sports while the health department reconsiders their recommendations. The governor is expected to address grade 7-12 athletics this week.
During the meeting, the board also:
• Approved a change in board policy, upon recommendation from the governor, to require protective facial coverings during pandemic/epidemic events.
• Agreed to hire a COVID-19 liaison from among existing staff to do contact tracing and other coronavirus-related work in the district.
• Agreed to the revised 2020-21 school calendar that delays the first day of school until Thursday, August 27 from Thursday, August 20. Professional development days are set for August 14, 18, 20-21 and 24-26.
• Approved a settlement agreement with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company in order to recoup the $9,300 the district paid to have the Waterville Primary School roof repaired by a second company, after having issues with the original contractor.
• Agreed to file an individual proof of claim in connection with the Purdue Pharma lawsuit. School districts are now allowed to join in on the lawsuit, as they are affected by the opioid issue, said treasurer/CFO Kerri Johnson. The cost of $1,000 to file the claim will likely be recouped.
• Agreed to hire Andrew Haack as HVAC maintenance supervisor.
• Accepted the resignations of Scott Kerschner, head bowling coach; Jennifer Shupe, speech therapist; and Marlee Clay, Whitehouse music teacher.