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EP school chief reviews back-to-school options

EAST PALESTINE — Back-to-school plans have been released in some capacity for all districts in the county. Since superintendents in the county have been working together with local health departments to come up with their plans, most of the outlines mirror each other.

While there are differing opinions on whether students should go back to school amid the coronavirus, each school district has implemented safety protocols, as well as an online learning option. At this week’s board of education meeting, East Palestine superintendent Chris Neifer discussed what has to happen in order for this school year to be successful.

Social distancing continues to be one of the most crucial strategies in order to stop the spread of the virus. While a six-foot gap between students is ideal, it may not be feasible in a school environment with smaller classrooms. The American Pediatric Association announced that three to six feet between students was the guideline for schools.

Until the district determines how many students are opting to learn online, it will be hard to envision what each classroom looks like. If a large number of students choose remote learning, it is possible that desks could be a full six feet apart.

Facemasks are another part of the equation, as county superintendents agreed to require students in third grade and up to wear face coverings. They also agreed that masks would be mandatory for everyone while riding the bus, which offers a close, enclosed space. Working in groups was another factor in making the decision to implement mandatory masks.

“If we’re in small group settings, there will need to be masks,” Neifer said. “Obviously one of the best parts of being in school is that ability to socialize and interact. To say that we’re going to put six kids together in kindergarten that have to be six feet part takes away from the learning process and socialization of the curriculum that we teach.”

That decision was validated on Tuesday when Gov. Mike DeWine announced that all K-12 students and faculty will be required to wear masks when school returns.

In terms of eating in the cafeteria, the district plans to spread out tables as much as possible. They are also looking into the possibility of purchasing plexiglass dividers for all three school buildings in order to create barriers and stop any chance of spreading the virus.

While the district released a 16-page reopening plan to parents, Neifer encourages everyone to reach out to the district to get their questions answered. While a lot conversation happens on the district’s Facebook page, Neifer said it is not set up for two-way conversations throughout the day.

“We’re trying to keep up with the questions and things that are out there to provide information,” Neifer said. “But I strongly encourage that parents with specific questions reach out to the district administrative team, whether it’s myself or the different buildings. We’ll get you those answers through phone or email.”

The district also released its calendar for the year, and students will start back on Aug. 31.

slendak@mojonews.com

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