12 year old girl wearing a reusable, protective face mask in classroom while working on school work at her desk.

By Susan Tebben and Ohio Capital Journal

Milford and West Chester, Ohio – Two Ohio school districts with some of the highest cumulative case rates for COVID-19 say as they remained in-person, their safety protocols only got better.

Milford Exempted Village School District in Clermont County has remained in-person since the fall, and has had to close twice due to staff absences.

“We simply had too many staff out sick or quarantined and couldn’t find the subs,” Wendy Planicka, director of communications and public relations for the district, told the OCJ. “We have shut down grade levels at a few of our elementary buildings as well, but not an entire elementary building.”

The school district, like many in the state, provides weekly counts of COVID-19 cases on their website, along with cumulative district-wide data.

Since Aug. 1, the district has reported 649 total cases in their district of 6,235 students and 810 staff members.

Currently 4,990 students are enrolled in-person, with 1,245 students enrolled in the district’s virtual program, Eagle Online.

Planicka said community spread has been the “number one cause of our cases,” followed by spread through athletics or non-school sponsored activities such as family parties.

“There have been two or three cases where we believe spread happened in an athletic setting — for example when football was in season last fall, at one point almost the entire football team was quarantined due to possible spread,” Planicka said.

The school implemented protocols that require an investigation into every positive case, including contact tracing in partnership with Clermont County Public Health and a minimum 10-day quarantine period for students and staff who test positive.

In schools, a mask requirement is in place, and custodians are to disinfect desk areas every evening, along with using an electrostatic sprayer “at least every 30 days” according to Milford’s protocol list.

Milford’s reopening plan was developed to make the return to school as safe as possible, but not to return the school to exactly as it was, according to the plan itself.

“School will not look the same as it did prior to March 2020,” the plan stated. “These changes may be temporary or they may be permanent. Time will tell.”

Milford’s latest COVID 19 Dashboard (https://www.milfordschools.org/services-and-programs/return-to-learning-20/covid-case-reporting-61/)

Butler County’s Lakota Local Schools had the highest number of cases since the pandemic counts began, with more than 700 total student cases, according to state data. The school is also home to 14,000 students, having reopened to in-person learning on August 17.

“Since then, our students have had the opportunity to attend school all day, every day,” said Betsy Fuller, community relations director for the district.

There is a virtual learning option at Lakota, being utilized by 3,000 students, according to Fuller.

In the five months that made up their first semester, the school reported 5,172 students in quarantine. The worst month for positive cases in students was December, with 221 of the 468 reported in that semester happening then.

“We traced many of the positive cases to holiday gatherings and celebrations happening outside of school between Halloween and Thanksgiving,” Fuller said. “It is also important to note that very few cases, if any, could actually be linked back to classroom spread.”

The district had guidelines in place as soon as it reopened, including requiring face coverings for all K-12 students, desk cleanings between classes, assigned seating at lunch, and block scheduling to avoid frequent class changes.

In the three months of the second semester so far, the district has reported 345 positive cases, but a 93% student attendance rate.

Lakota’s latest COVID 19 Dashboard (https://www.lakotaonline.com/cms/One.aspx?portalId=216799&pageId=24411613)

In February, the state implemented a vaccination program specifically for teachers and school personnel, making returning to school or already conducting in-person instruction a pre-requisite to districts receipt of vaccination doses.

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