Back to School Safety Protocols

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We know our students, staff, and community are excited to start the new school year and have been waiting for our return to school safety protocols. We also understand our community is passionate and has strong beliefs on the issue of masks. Regardless of your opinion on the use of masks in schools, we know that what we all want is what’s best for our students, staff, and our community.  While we do not wish to distract from the excitement of a new school year, we also know that parents and students are eager to know the protocols that we will utilize when school starts on Thursday, August 19.

As we begin the 2021-22 school year, we will continue our practice of relying on local public health officials for guidance on safety protocols and utilizing Hilliard’s COVID-19 data to inform the decisions we make.  We will closely monitor our community’s transmission rates, our students and staff’s positive case rates, and the number of quarantines of both students and staff. If data trends determine we need to make changes to any of our protocols, we have the ability to adjust swiftly and in a targeted fashion.  Today’s decision is data-driven, and as data shifts in either direction, our protocols could also change.

At the August 9 Board of Education meeting, the Board authorized the Superintendent to make decisions on the use of masks on a classroom, building-wide, grade level, or district-wide basis.  They also charged the Superintendent with notifying the Board of any such changes within 24 hours and making regular reports to the Board on district COVID data.

With regards to the use of masks, effective August 19, 2021, we will begin the school year as follows:

  • All PreK-6th grade buildings will require the use of masks by all individuals in the building (students, staff, and visitors). When outside, masks are not required.
  • 7th-12th grade buildings will be “mask friendly,” and we strongly encourage the use of masks by students and staff.
  • All unvaccinated staff, regardless of grade level, will be required to wear a mask.
  • Per federal mandate, all individuals will be required to wear masks on school busses.
  • We will follow quarantine guidance from the Ohio Department of Health. You can click here to read an overview or click on this link to see a classroom exposure flowchart.

As you are probably aware, public health officials strongly recommend the use of masks by all individuals entering school buildings, regardless of vaccination status.  Those same officials also encourage all eligible individuals to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Hilliard City Schools echoes these recommendations.  For students who have the option as to whether or not to wear a mask, we would ask that families educate themselves on the Ohio Department of Health’s quarantine guidelines.  These guidelines direct schools to make quarantine determinations based on the use of masks and vaccination status.  It will be important that families take this into consideration when they decide if their 7th-12th grade student will wear a mask at school.

As we continue into the school year, any district-wide change in protocols regarding the use of masks or other considerations will be made based upon a review of the following data:

  • The proportion of COVID-19 cases of school-aged children in the Hilliard City School District;
  • COVID-19 Analytics and Targeted Surveillance (CATS) data in three areas:
    • Percent of student absences
    • Percent of staff absences
    • Rate of nurse visits of CLI/ILI per 1,000 students;
  • Positivity Rates and Case Counts in Hilliard City School District Community;
  • Other data as deemed relevant by federal, state, and local medical experts.

Additionally, we will also continue the same safety protocols and mitigation strategies in our schools from last year.

Mitigation strategies 

  •  Physical Distancing: Individuals will be physically distanced by 3 feet when possible.
  • PPE: Desk and table sneeze guards will be available for students and staff upon request, including in the school cafeterias.
  • Hand Washing/Hand Sanitizing: Increased hand washing will continue to be emphasized throughout the school day. Hand sanitizer will continue to be placed in classrooms and throughout the buildings. Students will be encouraged to sanitize their hands throughout the day.
  • Cleaning and Disinfecting: Routine cleaning protocols will continue throughout all school buildings and buses.

Transportation  

  • Face Masks: Per federal requirement, face masks will be required to be worn by all students, staff, and school bus drivers while on the bus.
  • Hand Sanitizing: Hand sanitizer will be available on all school buses.
  • Assigned Seats: Students will have an assigned seat and will be seated up to the bus capacity.
  • Cleaning and Disinfecting: Each bus will continue to be cleaned and disinfected daily.

Building protocols

  • Visitors and Volunteers: Visitors will be allowed in the schools when the principal deems a necessary visit and an appointment is scheduled. Pick-up/ Drop-off of students or items will still be outside the front doors. Visitors in any building must wear a mask.
  • Air Flow/HVAC: The building HVAC systems will continue to be programmed to bring in more outside air throughout the day. All air handling systems will utilize the maximum MERV rating filter that they are rated for.
  • Water Bottle Fillers/Fountains: Water bottle filling stations will be open for use. Water fountains will continue to be closed.

Foodservice  

  • All enrolled students are eligible to receive one breakfast and one lunch daily at no charge for the 2021-2022 school year through United States Department of Agriculture waivers.
  • Cafeteria Seating: In order to provide sufficient information for contact tracing, there will be assigned lunchroom tables.
  • Hand Sanitizing: Students will be encouraged to wash their hands and/or use hand sanitizer before lunch periods.

Contact tracing and quarantine 

I can assure you that nobody is excited about the fact that we are once again faced with these difficult decisions.  Please know that they have been made after a great deal of deliberation and with a focus on student safety and our ability to keep students in school every day.  What I do know is that if we, as a community, make a collective commitment to the strategies that have been shown to reduce the risk of COVID transmission, a full return to “normalcy” is possible.

Please remember, the guidance school districts are getting can change quickly. While these are the protocols in place today, if information or guidance from health officials changes, our plans could also change.

David Stewart

Hilliard City Schools Superintendent