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West Clermont schools grapple with best COVID-19 policy approach

Posted at 4:24 PM, Sep 09, 2021

Samantha Schuster thinks they are heading toward a breaking point at West Clermont Middle School.

"I appreciate them trying to give the kids the freedom to choose themselves," Schuster said. "That is good. But as a parent, that's kind of disturbing when you have a 10-year-old having panic attacks."

Four days into sixth grade, her daughter, Autumn Schuster, went home healthy, only quarantined because she was near another student confirmed to have caught coronavirus.

"She did not have, like, any anxiety issues until last year, when remote learning started and it was just because things she didn't understand," Samantha Schuster said.

When her school finally allowed Autumn Schuster back into class, it sent a letter home to parents. It told everyone on campus to stay home for remote learning Friday and Monday because too many staff members were out.

The absences were despite layers of on-campus protection, including recommendations that students and staff wear masks. School administrators said they see "evidence of school-related" spread.

In two weeks, the school had 44 students and eight staff members test positive for COVID-19 and 650 children forced to stay home 10 days like Schuster.

The situation is a challenge similar to others around the state.

"What we're hearing is what one might expect we would be hearing," said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

Vanderhoff said districts that began the year with optional masking are changing policy because of the number of people missing class due to quarantines.

​It happened at Poland Schools in Youngstown, Ohio, and at Kings Local Schools in Warren County.

RELATED: Kings Local Schools votes to require masks for Pre-K through 6th-grade students

"We really need to think back to basics," said Dr. Joseph Gaspaldo, the medical director of infectious diseases for the Ohio Health Department. "There is no physiological harm for a child to wear a mask. I actually think it's going to be more harmful for them to have remote learning, or, God forbid, they require a hospitalization of COVID-19."

West Clermont school administrators agree and are grappling with ideas to keep kids learning on campus.

It is why Schuster thinks a mask mandate is only a matter of time.

"It might not be such a bad idea to put that in place and see what happens," Schuster said.

While that is not a decision currently being weighed in West Clermont schools, the superintendent is having routine talks with Clermont and Hamilton county health leaders to try to find a strategy that works.