ASHLAND -- The school year has been anything but normal for Ashland County school districts, but Ashland City, Crestview, Hillsdale and Mapleton Schools have all offered at least some in-person instruction for students.
Ashland City, Crestview and Mapleton Schools largely operate in traditional manners. Students typically attend school every weekday.
Mapleton does have some scheduled remote learning days built into its calendar.
Hillsdale has operated under a hybrid model. Students receive in-person instruction two days a week in smaller class sizes.
All offer remote options.
Ashland Source also reached out to the Loudonville-Perrysville Exempted Village School District, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
Scroll to read more information about how each district's 2020-21 school year is going so far.
Ashland City School District
ASHLAND -- The Ashland City School District has offered in-person learning for the duration of the 2020-21 school year.
A few months in, Superintendent Doug Marrah is pleased with how the school year has progressed, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We’ve had this model where we haven’t seen community spread in our buildings," Marrah said. "One of the things is our students wearing masks effectively, not crowding hallways ... and all the cleaning is as important too as everything the adults and students are doing. That’s been effective for us."
The Ashland City School District has currently recorded 28 total cases of COVID-19 in students and staff since Sept. 11. Twenty-three of these individuals have recovered, leaving five active cases.
During this time, 434 individuals have been quarantined. Of those, 113 remain in quarantine, according to the district's COVID-19 dashboard.
When someone is tested positive for COVID-19, the district follows measures detailed in its School Restart Protocol. The document has been updated throughout the school year as new information comes along.
"We take everything we learn and keep making it better. We do get great information from the health department, the city of Ashland, Mark Rafeld of the EMA," Marrah said.
Students in direct contact to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 might join then participate in the Ohio Schools COVID-19 Evaluation, which includes regular COVID-19 testing. A sample group of students who have not been directly exposed to COVID-19 are participating in the evaluation, too.
Marrah expressed intentions to speak more in detail of the OSCE at the upcoming Monday evening school board meeting.
"We’ve had a great start in terms of student behavior. That’s why we still are here (in-person) today because it has been so effective," Marrah said. "It has been all hands on deck. Everyone has been working together."
He highlighted efforts to communicate procedures effectively and explain the definitions like the difference between isolation and quarantine.
As the holidays approach, he encourages families to be careful.
"We continue to have conversations reiterating how important it is to be smart about continuing safe practices, continuing to wash your hands often, wearing your mask and being very positive, reliable citizens," Marrah said.
At the beginning of the school year, about 20 to 25 percent of Ashland City School District students opted to use remote learning instead of attending school in-person. Some students have returned to in-person learning since then.
"Over and over and over again, we hear how much they appreciate the option of being back at school," Marrah said. "I think that we can’t undervalue the human interaction, the social interactions that students have at school."
Crestview Local School District
Nearly three months into the 2020-21 school year, Crestview Local School District's Superintendent Randy Dunlap says it's going well -- considering the circumstances.
The district has recorded three positive COVID-19 tests -- two staff members and one student, according to its COVID-19 dashboard. Two have recovered before the last update on Nov. 16. These are cumulative numbers.
Since the beginning of the school year, 64 individuals have been quarantined. Of these, 26 have finished quarantine.
"For all that we are currently enduring, our year is going pretty well," Dunlap said.
The district did recently move its entire first grade class to a remote learning setting due to lack of available staffing from contact tracing.
Potential positive cases and quarantined status of staff members determines the district's instructional methods.
"We evaluate each on a case-by-case basis before we determine a plan of action that could potentially affect the daily instruction," Dunlap said.
The district, situated along Ashland and Richland County lines, relies on the Richland County Health Department for guidance. It also continues to follow the mask mandate and practice social distancing "as best it can," Dunlap continued.
Further, cleaning and sanitation procedures have been increased. Buses, too, mandate masks and are regularly cleaned, according to Dunlap.
"We have been continuously evaluating our distancing and trying to expand that whenever and wherever possible while doing our best to not take away from the instructional environment," he said.
The district hopes to keep school as "normal as possible" before, during and after the holiday season.
"We are hopeful that our community will continue their efforts in helping us to remain open," Dunlap said. "We rely on their due diligence to follow the guidelines and help us keep their children, and our staff, safe and in school for as long as possible."
Though challenging, he believes this school year is better than last. He feels it's preferable to transitioning to a fully remote setting as the district had for the conclusion of the 2019-2020 school year.
"I believe that everyone is happy to be back in school and hopeful for a different 2021. We are working to make the time we have face-to-face with our students as normal as possible while making them feel as safe as we can," Dunlap said. "So much was missed in the spring that this is better than what happened to end the year. I am so proud of our staff, students, and community as we muscle our way through these difficult and trying times.
Hillsdale Local School District
ASHLAND -- The Hillsdale Local School District has operated in a hybrid fashion for the entire 2020-21 school year and intends to continue in that way as of now.
In a recent survey, about 62 percent of parents said they would be comfortable with their children attending school each weekday, but since then the number of COVID-19 cases increased in Ashland County and at the Hillsdale School District.
As of Nov. 20, the district's COVID-19 dashboard reported 14 cumulative cases of COVID-19 between students and staff. Of those cases, two are active.
The dashboard shows 149 students or staff members have been quarantined due to the pandemic since Aug. 3. There are 41 currently quarantined.
"If our new construction was done, and we had bigger classrooms and better ventilation systems, we might be back with everyone 100 percent and working through it without any more issues than we're having right now, but when you’re dealing with classrooms under 600 square foot, you've got tight quarters," Superintendent Steve Dickerson said.
All students at Hillsdale spend three days learning online and two days in-person. One group of students meets Monday and Tuesday, while the opposite half meets Thursday and Friday. All students work remotely on Wednesdays. The schedule varies on shortened weeks.
The intention behind the smaller class sizes is to allow students and staff to better socially distance themselves.
"I’d rather see kids back every day, but I've got to be able to do it safely. By going hybrid, it was a plan we could sustain no matter what goes on in the county," Dickerson said. "The state does all the county color coding, but if it doesn't directly relate to our school, then there's no need for us to react to that."
The district did move seventh and eighth grade students to a remote platform from Nov. 2 through Nov. 13 due to the number of staff and students quarantined in those grades.
Dickerson announced plans to remain in hybrid learning on Nov. 6. In his message to parents, he mentioned the survey with the 62 percent approval of full-time in-person learning.
"Since then, though, Ohio and Hillsdale have seen an increase in COVID cases. I have been getting phone calls from families to let me know that they are no longer comfortable with their children moving to daily in-person instruction even though they answered that way on the survey," Dickerson said.
He explained that the district's number of quarantined students and staff would have likely been higher if the schools weren't operated in a hybrid fashion.
Most COVID-19 cases, Dickerson added, appear to come from contacts at home. The school nurse works to identify close contacts to those with COVID-19 cases and facilitates quarantining.
"We've had a lot of outside sources causing the quarantines. The root of the spread has not been in schools," Dickerson said.
Students in Hillsdale have also had to option to learn in a fully remote setting. The district has worked with families to transition students from one option to another throughout the year.
"We won’t leave anyone in a situation they are uncomfortable with," Dickerson said.
Loudonville- Perrysville Exempted Village School District
Loudonville-Perrysville Exempted Village School District is currently reporting two active cases of COVID-19 in students and staff.
The district has recorded eight cumulative cases on its website.
Superintendent Catherine Puster did not respond to questions regarding the status of the school year at the time of publication.
It appears the district's website is updated regularly to inform of COVID-19 cases and exposures. The most recent post was made Nov. 13.
"There was a positive case in the district and some students and staff were exposed. Any staff or student who was exposed will be notified by school personnel by the end of the day today. At the time of this post, the district staff is working on the notifications," Puster said in the update.
The website states that the district continues follow Ashland County Health Department guidelines and protocols. The buildings are disinfected daily.
Mapleton Local School District
The Mapleton Local School District has offered in-person education without interruption since the beginning of the school year on Aug. 24 -- one of the earliest first days of school within Ashland County.
Any decision to transition to remote or hybrid learning would be determined by the number of positive cases within the district, the number of students and staff in quarantine and the availability of substitutes. Finding both certified and classified staff is the major factor, according to Superintendent Scott Smith.
But such a decision has yet to be made.
To date, the district has recorded a total of six COVID-19 cases -- four in students and two in staff members. The district's COVID-19 dashboard currently shows no active cases, but 33 students and 1 staff member are quarantined.
"Our relatively low number of positive cases at Mapleton, I believe, is a testament to the collective resolve of our students, parents, staff, administration and Board of Education to implement the safe and responsible plan," Smith said.
Over the summer and into the school year, Mapleton Local School District collaborated with University Hospitals, PSI Solutions, the Ashland County Health Department and other Ashland County school districts to develop its approach to this unique school year.
"I believe we’re having a great school year considering we’re in the middle of a pandemic," Smith said.
He considers the school nurse Tanya Blough and the administrative team to be critical components in allowing the district to maintain in-person learning. The team is responsible for assessing potential COVID-19 cases or exposure on and off the Mapleton campus. They make decisions on who needs to quarantine based on potential exposure to a positive COVID-19 case.
Smith added that he's been pleased with how students and staff have self-monitored symptoms and remained home when not feeling well.
"We all get tired of the temperature checks, wearing masks, physical distancing and all of the other COVID-19 safety protocols, but we keep doing these things in order to stay with in-person learning as long as possible," Smith said.
The district also hopes to continue with music concerts, theater production, club activities and athletic events for the entire school year.
Perhaps the most significant change to the 2020-21 school year at the Mapleton School District calendar comes in the form of regularly scheduled remote learning days. These days were built into the calendar so teachers could "plan, pilot and prepare" to potential additional remote learning due to COVID-19, Smith explained. These days have typically been scheduled on Mondays.
The district intends to approach holidays "normally." The district has no intentions to transition to remote learning around the holidays at this time.
"Some families are making adjustments to their travel plans. Students and staff will need to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from a travel advisory state," Smith said.