Parents hope districts 'will make the right decision' as Ohio prioritizes COVID testing for schools

Schools announce closures, update guidance
Virus Outbreak Schools
Posted at 6:55 PM, Jan 13, 2022

INDIAN HILL, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health will temporarily stop sending at home COVID-19 test kits to libraries and other health partners, instead prioritize kits for K-12 schools, colleges and universities.

“This month Ohio order 1.2 million proctored kits,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff with the Ohio Department of Health. “Only a fraction of those tests have arrived and are being distributed due to a shipping delay. As a result Ohio is prioritizing the states supply to first support out K-12 schools and universities.”

Vanderhoff is recommending districts take a layered approached when it comes to keeping kids in school, meaning mandating masks and testing students.

“A mask is not perfect, a test is often not perfect, but when we apply them together, we are often able to achieve a most substantial result than if we were doing those things in isolation,” he said.

The emphasis on schools comes as school districts across the Tri-State have canceled classes or switched to remote learning due to staff shortages and illnesses among teachers and students.

Districts including Hamilton City Schools, Blanchester Local Schools, Clermont Northeastern Local Schools, Covington Independent School District and more are closed through at least the end of the week. Cincinnati Public Schools is currently remote.

“COVID-19 tests are essential to helping ensure in-person learning,” Vanderhoff said.

“He needs to be in person, his education is one of our top priorities,” said Joan Garrett, whose 6-year-old son Henry is a student at the Indian Hill Exempted School District.

Garrett said she supports the layered approach.

“Testing is knowing the status if someone just have a rhinovirus versus COVID, so I think testing is very important,” Garrett said.

She said she would also like to see a universal masking policy stay in place, at least for now, at her son’s school. Henry, who has congenital myopathy — a genetic defect that effects his muscles, was exposed to COVID while at school Monday. At that point, masks were not mandatory.

“I was very, very upset about it," Garrett said. "Just all the potential scenarios in my mind — he could get COVID-19, he could get intubated, he could be in the ICU. It’s incredibly stressful for everyone, not just parents. Especially being a parent of a medically complex child who has been in and out of the hospital before, we don’t know what would happen if he gets COVID-19.”

Indian Hill Exempted School District implemented a temporary mask mandate for all staff and students Wednesday. It’ll be in place through January 21. In a statement, Superintendent Kirk Koennecke said several factors led to the decision, including staffing shortages and high absentee rates.

“We will continue to monitor the evolving COVID research and data. Our priority of in-person learning will continue to guide our decision-making as we work together to ensure success,” he said.

The district also hosted a pop-up testing clinic Thursday. Some parents said they wish the mandate would have come sooner.

“The school talks about the importance all kids being in person…but then they’re not actually doing it with their actions when they’re refusing to do these mask policies,” said Katie Foster, whose son Jonah attends kindergarten at the district.

Foster said Jonah has a chronic lung disease. If the mandate isn’t extended, she said it won’t be safe for him to go to school in person.

“I don’t think that the numbers are going to be low enough that it’ll be acceptable for him to be around anyone that is unmasked,” Foster said. “It’s unfortunate that he started out kindergarten with this experience, but we are just hoping that the school, the superintendent, will make the right decision — that the board will listen to the parents, the many parents, in our district and the medical professionals.”

According to the Ohio Department of Education, 47% of district statewide have a universal mask policy. Equally, 47% of mask optional policies.

As of Jan. 6, ODE reported 85% of school districts were doing in person learning five days a week.