LEESBURG, Ohio — Fairfield Local Schools’ first first day of school this year was a false start. Students arrived in their classrooms Aug. 12 bearing backpacks, lunches and a cocktail of respiratory infections — COVID-19, rhinovirus and strep throat — so devastating that 17% of them were too sick to attend classes by Aug. 23.
“Putting masks on was not going to stop it,” said superintendent Tim Dettweiler.
He canceled the entire week of classes instead. Fairfield Local Schools will have a second first day on Aug. 30.
“It just made no sense for me to keep bringing kids back in, mixing up those viruses, sending them home and getting other people sick,” Dettweiler said Wednesday.
Shutting down completely was a move so drastic he hadn’t attempted it even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but he felt he had no choice given the level of illness in his student body.
Dettweiler is still worried, he added. He’s seeing more cases of COVID-19 in children, a group generally considered to be far safer from serious illness than adults.
Other districts are facing the same problem.
In Warren County, Kings Local Schools ordered pre-K through sixth-graders to wear masks. Lebanon, where hundreds of students are quarantined, could do the same.
In Indiana, all but one Dearborn County school began requiring masks, too, after a surge of COVID cases in children.
Bethel-Tate High School officials in Clermont County decided students should work remotely Thursday and Friday, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases and necessary quarantines.
Brian Edwards, a fourth-grader at Fairfield, said he was happy to spend more time at his grandpa’s house with his siblings — but he’d still rather be at school.
When he learned he couldn’t go back yet, “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to,’” he said Wednesday.
Dettweiler wants students back in classrooms, too, but he wants to do it safely. He’s considering a three-week mask mandate starting Aug. 30.