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Educators: Schools may be forced to close anyway, for lack of teachers

“When we have one person [who] can take 25 to 30 people into quarantine, that’s how schools are going to shut down,” Mahoning County Educational Service Center Superintendent Traci Hostetler said Friday.

CANFIELD — If local schools close due to coronavirus spread, it likely won’t be because of students — rather because too many teachers have been forced to quarantine, Mahoning school officials said Friday.

Speaking to city Mayor Richard Duffett’s COVID-19 defense force Friday on the Village Green, Canfield Local Schools Superintendent Joe Knoll said the district has been able to remain open for in-person instruction largely because district parents have been doing their part to keep the virus out of the school — checking their students for symptoms and keeping them home when they’re sick.

“I’m concerned about staff members — that’s where we’re struggling,” he said.

Coronavirus’ spread in the last several weeks has been explosive in the county and the state. Mahoning has reported some of the worst spread per 100,000 people in Ohio, in-line with other largely urban counties like Cuyahoga and Franklin, which issued stay-at-home advisories this week.

Mahoning County Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac on Friday told defense force members county contact tracers charged with identifying close contacts of COVID-positive residents have been finding those residents’ social circles are larger than expected, meaning  more residents have been congregating with people outside their household and contributing to that spread.

“This is not the time to gather,” Tekac said. “We need to ensure the community stands up. … We, as officials, can continue to put this message out.”

Traci Hostetler, Mahoning County Educational Service Center superintendent and a member of Canfield’s task force, told Mahoning Matters Friday coronavirus infections have affected a majority of school districts in the county.

There have been nearly 300 confirmed coronavirus cases at Mahoning Valley schools to date, including 173 from Trumbull County schools, more than in Mahoning and Columbiana schools combined according to the Ohio Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Of those cumulative cases, 128 were reported in the last week.

But what’s more impactful to school operations are the required 14-day quarantine periods for school faculty and staff who were exposed, Hostetler said. Local superintendents have told her virus spread isn’t happening inside school buildings, but rather through second-hand exposure at home.

“When we have one person [who] can take 25 to 30 people into quarantine, that’s how schools are going to shut down,” Hostetler told the Canfield task force Friday. “If we don’t get that support and help from the community in shrinking those circles, we are going to quarantine teachers to a point where we can’t stay open anymore.”

“I don’t think the kids mind the mode of [remote] learning but I think they miss the social component. I know they miss the collaboration,” she said “When kids can’t work together, they can’t spin things or share ideas and collaborate — you know as well as I do it doesn’t sink in as well. It’s not a high-enough level of learning. I think that’s why the superintendents are so committed to keeping their doors open as much as possible.”

As more teachers quarantine, there aren’t enough substitutes on-hand to fill-in, Hostetler added.

The ESC has raised daily substitute pay from $80 to $100 but is still struggling to find fill-in educators.

The ESC hosts weekly virtual hiring fairs for substitute teachers at 9 a.m. every Tuesday. Below is a flyer with more information. Interested applicants can click here to register for the event.

  • Campbell City Schools suspended in-person classes Friday. They’re tentatively set to resume Dec. 7. The district temporarily went remote in late October after coronavirus cases were reported, according to WKBN. The district on Friday reported 15 confirmed cases among students and staff since Oct. 25.
  • Boardman Local Schools earlier this week announced its middle school would return to remote learning through Thanksgiving due to six new teacher and staff quarantines, all traced back to one case. That brought the total number of sidelined employees to 28.
  • Poland Local Schools went remote Monday. Currently, 204 students and staff members are required to quarantine, according to a message from interim Superintendent Edwin Holland. Last week, the district intended to continue teaching in-person until Thanksgiving.
  • Lowellville Local Schools students from all grades also returned to remote learning Monday, and that’s expected to last until Dec. 1.
  • West Branch High School is set to go remote starting Monday, through Dec. 4.
  • United Local Schools, which is in Columbiana County, last week announced a return to remote learning through at least Dec. 1, after reporting 15 cases to date, six of which were faculty and staff.
  • Youngstown City Schools CEO Justin Jennings on Friday canceled all athletics through December at the earliest. Choffin Career and Technical Center has also suspended its adult education program through December. “We have to put the health of our scholars, scholar-athletes, staff and families first,” Jennings is quoted in a release. “I know athletics means a lot to many young people. The decision to suspend winter sports wasn’t an easy one, but it’s the right one.”
  • Struthers City and Sebring Local have also been affected by coronavirus, and there are other local districts considering calling off in-person learning in the coming days, Hostetler said.

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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