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Surge in virus cases closing more Valley schools

A number of Mahoning Valley schools and some districts temporarily are going fully online with classes due to reports of COVID-19 among students and staff members.

In Mahoning County, Poland Local schools decided to move to remote learning with the hope to be back in the school buildings around Nov. 30.

Edwin Holland, interim superintendent, told the board of education Monday that the decision was made in everyone’s best interest.

Last week as a number of cases were reported, Holland said schools administration was “hopeful” to be in the buildings this week, but by Friday that was not an option.

There are 19 positive cases in the district, which Holland and former Superintendent David Janofa, who is assisting Holland as he transitions to his new role, explained impacts another 200 people now in quarantine.

Using the state’s dashboard, Holland said that the increases in Mahoning County are “disturbing” as they have steeply climbed. The 44514 ZIP code in Poland went from fourth highest to second highest for cases in Mahoning County between Friday and Monday, increasing from 95 cases to 130.

“It’s pretty staggering to see the increase of cases” over the last couple of weeks, Holland said.

Lowellville schools are back to remote learning until Dec. 1.

The decision was made last week due to entire department having to quarantine, Superintendent Geno Thomas said Monday.

A member of the cafeteria staff and member of the transportation department each are in quarantine after exposure to COVID-19, Thomas said.

“Combine that with the uptick of cases statewide, and Thanksgiving break coming up, and the possibility of a lot of families traveling out of state or out of the region, we felt it was best to go remote until Dec. 1,” Thomas said.

Extracurricular activities are continuing as normal, Thomas said.

This school year, administration has been ready to make the call on which form of learning — traditional or remote — would be implemented. In the event of an outbreak among students or a department, Thomas said that the district has been ready to “flip the switch” to remote learning.

On Aug. 10, the district decided to do remote learning across the board. “My hat’s off to the staff, the students and parents for their unbridled cooperation,” he said.

The district was remote the first nine weeks, heading back to a traditional setting minus almost 70 students who stayed remote.

One of the challenges of the district, which is housed in one building, with one principal and dean of students, is not being able to shift staff around if someone tests positive or needs to quarantine, Thomas said.

“If we lose two or three teachers, that’s two or three grade levels,” he said.

WEEKLY MEETINGS

Superintendents meet weekly to discuss all things COVID-19 related, said Traci Hostetler, superintendent of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center.

An ongoing discussion each week is how to keep students in a face-to-face setting, she said.

“We understand that parents rely on us in addition to us really believing face-to-face is the best model,” which will be carried out as long as it is deemed safe, Hostetler said.

Each week, the list of schools or districts going remote has changed, “and it will continue to do so,” Hostetler said.

With MCESC, about 55 people are quarantined for coming in contact with a case or who have been tested positive out of 300 people, she said.

Supervisors are helping to fill in the classrooms as substitute teachers, Hostetler said.

“We’re limping along,” she said. “It’s just about constant adjustments.”

There is a balance that superintendents are trying to achieve, she said.

“If we are able to watch (COVID-19) so that we react prior to our staff being impacted, we can work remotely and still provide a quality education,” Hostetler said.

As cases continue to increase, it will “definitely” impact how schools approach education, Hostetler said.

Youngstown State University on Monday identified 43 total coronavirus cases for the week that ended on Nov. 7≥ Two of the cases were faculty/staff members and 41 were students. Only one student lives on campus.

YSU officials announced last week that after the Thanksgiving holiday, the university will be primarily onlline-only. Students will receive several reminders and tips about keeping safe leading up to Thanksgiving break and staying healthy during the holidays and into the new year. Plans call for a return to campus for the start of the spring 2021 semester Jan. 11.

TRUMBULL COUNTY

Trumbull Career and Technical Center Superintendent Jason Gray on Monday announced that the school will be closed until Dec. 6, due to one student being positively identified with the virus as well as the school receiving calls from three other parents that their children may have been exposed to the virus.

Niles Middle School is remote-only through Nov. 24. All extra-curricular and sports activities also have been canceled during this period.

Warren G. Harding High School in Warren is operating online though Nov. 29, due to a a faculty/staff member testing positive. Students are expected to be able to return to the hybrid mode at high school Nov. 30. Willard PK-8th School also is remote-only to Nov. 30.

Newton Falls Exempted Village Schools will be closed to in-person school through Nov. 30. Students, as of now, are expected to to return on Dec. 1.

Howland High School and Middle School also are going to remote learning starting today through Nov. 30. Grades K-4 will continue with in-person learning, according to an email from the district.

Champion High School is operating online-only through Nov. 30. All high school extracurricular activities are canceled through the remote period.

afox@tribtoday.com

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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