GALION — With the first day of school for many districts just a few weeks away, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) this week released updated COVID-19 guidelines for local schools.
In a press release issued following a press conference on Monday announcing the guidelines, ODH outlined several recommendations for schools to follow. The guidance strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccinations for staff and eligible students; consistent mask-wearing for individuals who are not yet fully vaccinated; and layering prevention measures that include good ventilation, regular cleaning, handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick. ODH also strongly recommends those who are not fully vaccinated to consistently wear masks, which have proven a very effective tool for reducing the spread of the virus.
Galion City Schools Superintendent Jennifer Allerding released an informational video Monday evening on the district’s Facebook page reiterating the district’s plan for returning to school for the 2021-2022 academic year. The plan can be viewed on the district’s website www.galionschools.org.
“In our reset and re-start plan, we did put in there that (face masks) were going to be strongly recommended, but not required,” Allerding said. “So we are still continuing with that guidance that we are recommending those masks, however, we are not requiring them. Please understand that things do change quickly and if additional guidance or mandates come out between now and the beginning of the school year, that could potentially change.”
According to the plan, “the district will continue to provide facial coverings for students and staff who chose to wear one.”
Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday that he doesn’t believe he has the authority to mandate that masks be worn in schools, instead deferring that decision to local school district officials and parents.
“I do not believe I have the ability today to mandate (masks in schools). There is not the appetite in this state for that kind of a mandate,” DeWine said. “We are at a point in the pandemic where information is out there but these decisions must be left to the local community and must be left to the parents.”
Allerding noted that students must wear face masks when riding on a school bus, whether it’s to and from school or to and from extracurricular activities.
Allerding said she met with the Galion City Health Department on Monday to discuss several topics and received guidance regarding contact tracing and quarantines.
“If your child has been identified as a close contact — meaning that they’ve been within six feet for 15 minutes or more without two barriers — then there will be potentially contact tracing and quarantines that will go into place,” Allerding said. “So we know from last (school) year, at the end of the year, we were operating (on a) 1-day rule, they would be quarantined. If there was testing that took place on days five or after, and come back with a negative test, then students could be reintroduced to school earlier. All of those things are still in place for the 21-22 school year.”
Allerding noted that students and district staff members who have been vaccinated “are not subject to quarantining at this point.” That’s a change from the previous guidelines, she said.
Regarding the upcoming fall athletics season, Allerding said fans will be allowed back in stands at all events with no restrictions at this point.
“Right now, we’ve been given the guidance that we can be at full capacity, so gone are the days, hopefully, that we have to give tickets and we have to limit the number of individuals attending athletic events,” she said. “We’re excited to open up the gates this year and we hope that our families and members of the community can join us in supporting our students in athletic competition.”
Allerding said further updates will posted on the school district’s website and Facebook page. The district website is www.galionschools.org.
The first day of school for students is Thursday, Aug. 19.
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