SCIOTO — With the new year approaching, most Scioto County students will be spending time before and after the holiday break back home.
As COVID cases and deaths have rapidly increased recently, last week alone adding 626 cases and five deaths, the following local schools decided to move learning to a remote status:
- New Boston: Nov. 23-Jan. 4
- Clay: Dec. 8-Jan. 4
- Minford: Dec. 1-Jan. 4
- Portsmouth West: Nov. 30-Jan. 4
- Portsmouth: Dec. 10-Jan. 8
- Wheelersburg: Dec. 9-Jan. 15
- Northwest: Dec. 7-Jan. 4
- Valley: Jan. 4-Jan. 15
As of the latest data reported to the Ohio Department of Health from Dec. 10, Minford and Northwest schools were leading the way with 32 and 30 cases respectively among students and staff. Washington-Nile’s 28 cases were the second-highest in the county.
That call was not an easy one for Minford Superintendent Jeremy Litteral or Wheelersburg Superintendent Mark Knapp, but they felt it was one needed to ensure the safety of students and staff.
“Unfortunately, this virus just continues to spread without containment, so this decision had to be made to help stop the spread as much as we can in our schools,” Litteral said in a prior interview with the Portsmouth Daily Times, who will update families no later than Dec. 31 as for its return to the classroom.
While closures are seen as a way to slow the spread, some public health experts have said it leads to other issues and have actually insisted that schools remain open. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked schools to consider how closures disrupt routines and availability of services, this alteration causing mental health struggles for many.
“K through 12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and they can do it safely and they can do it responsibly,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told reporters at the White House on Nov. 19, adding that cases reported were coming from outside the classroom.
Carissa Boggs, team leader of the Children’s Program at Shawnee Family Health Center, has seen the effects of the school shutdowns last spring and more recently. Boggs oversees a team of 10 counselors, where several are based in schools themselves to provide mental health assistance to students.
Working in the field for 23 years, the experience is unlike anything Boggs has seen. Offering such services as the telehealth service, doxy.me, and a 24/7 hotline is helpful, but not complete solutions for many young people in need she said.
“They are the best we can offer right now,” she said, although face-to-face emergency services at their office are still available as long as masks and social distancing rules can be followed. “They don’t do that well on the telephone and some kids don’t feel comfortable using doxy.me or laptops to communicate.”
Research reveals how the pandemic has affected children and adults alike across the globe. The British mental health charity, YoungMinds, surveyed 2,036 people in July between the ages of 11 and 18 with a history of mental health needs and found that 80% said their health had worsened.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 40% of U.S. adults were struggling with mental health or substance abuse, 25% from the same survey between the ages of 18 and 25 reporting having considered suicide in the last 30 days before the answering the June survey.
“This reset period, whether schools delay instruction or educate students in a fully remote model, is critical not only to ensure student and staff safety but also to give schools time to refine their delivery model and make other necessary adjustments to execute their instructional plan so students can receive the best education possible in the face of all of the challenges the pandemic presents,” OEA President Scott DiMauro said in the release.
In order to ensure a safe return to the classroom and extracurricular activities, OEA recommends a more active role from health departments in a review of their plans.
“Public health experts, not the elected politicians that serve on local school boards, should make the determination about whether schools are safe for students and staff to gather in person,” DiMauro said. “The state has thus far failed to provide true leadership or firm statewide policies. We therefore must depend on local boards of health to make difficult decisions and accept accountability when they approve any educational plans.”
While students carry-on their education outside the classroom, Boggs said it is vital for students to maintain some form of a routine. Beyond their school tasks, she recommends physical exercise and staying in touch with friends in a safe way.
“They’ve lost their routine and their structure,” she said. “Even though they are not having a structured day at school, they need some form of routine at home.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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