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What's new in school? Officials say students, staff adjusting well

Mahoning Matters checked in with superintendents in Boardman, Canfield, Howland, Jackson-Milton and Western Reserve to find out how the new school year has gone so far.

Despite the many changes with the 2020-2021 school year beginning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, superintendents at Valley schools said students and staff are adjusting well — so far.

Here is a look at how some of the first days back have looked.

Boardman Local Schools

Superintendent Timothy Saxton said the first day for Boardman Local Schools went better than expected on Tuesday.

“We thought there would be a tougher time for our kids and staff to adapt, but they did very well,” Saxton said.

About 70 percent of students returned in-person and 30 percent chose to be online for the first seven weeks, or the first grading period. Saxton said the schools ask that families honor their decision on how to start the year and will have the opportunity to change plans at the end of the grading period.

Face masks are required to be worn by students throughout the day. Every classroom, cafeteria and lab room has Plexiglas dividers on the desks and tables.

Students don’t get their temperature checked before entering buildings, but parents are asked to do at-home assessments for symptoms students head to school. Employees are asked to do the same before their arrival. If a student or employee has a temperature or shows two or more symptoms, they should not go to school.

“Our philosophy is that this is this whole system is built on trust,” Saxton said. “Parents trust that we're going to have safety measures in place. Out of respect to our parents, we trust that they're doing their daily checkups.”

Canfield Local Schools

Canfield Local Schools returned on Sept. 8 with about 420 students choosing online lessons through Cardinal Digital Academy. The remainder of about 2,200 students returned in-person.

Superintendent Joe Knoll said the first four days of school went well.

“From what I was told by our principals and what I saw for the week, our staff and students did an amazing job,” Knoll said.

Students wear face masks, follow patterns in hallways and have dividers in between desks in each classroom.

Parents are asked to check student’s temperatures before they leave home. Knoll said students’ temperatures are also checked with thermal temperature machines before entering the buildings.

Knoll said one of the biggest changes fo students that each desk has some form of a plastic divider on it. Middle school and high school have plastic dividers, and the elementary schools had dividers made with PVC pipe and plastic coating between desks.

Howland Local Schools

Howland Local Schools returned Sept. 8 on a hybrid model. Students are divided into two groups or "cohorts." Cohort A attends school Mondays and Thursdays, and Cohort B attends on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Superintendent Kevin Spicher said about 560 students have chosen remote learning. The students attending in-person have about 980 students in each cohort.

The schools are also prepared to go full online or return for all five days a week, if necessary.

“We're in a place to trigger that toggle switch and to make sure that we can accommodate whatever ends up coming our way from the [Gov. Mike DeWine's] office,” Spicher said.

Spicher said the schools are focusing on everyone wearing masks, social distancing, sanitizing hands regularly and cleaning common areas and surfaces.

Gray dots are placed throughout the building to help students maintain social distancing. All hallways are divided with directional arrows to limit contact between students. Classrooms have Plexiglass shields

The buses now feature automatic temperature scanners to check temperatures when students get on the bus. A green light will indicate that they don’t have a temperature and a red light will indicate they have a temperature.

If they have a temperature, they will be required to exit the bus and return to their residence or vehicle that took them to the bus. If a student is too young to go back home or no one is home, they will use hand sanitizer and sit in the front passenger seat to be taken to the school where contact will be made with a parent to pick them up.

Spicher said it has been a challenging start to the year. He said it’s not a scenario that anyone enjoys, but they will continue to educate students the best that they can.

“We wish our kids could be here with us five days a week,” Spicher said. “We’re hoping that we’ll get through this.”

Jackson-Milton Local Schools

Jackson-Milton Local Schools had students return for the first day of school in person on Sept. 9.

“The first day went exceptionally well,” Superintendent Kirk Baker said.

About 75 percent of students returned to in-person school. Baker said parents were already calling to request their child move from remote to in-person schooling so he expects the number of students to grow by next week.

Students were given a new mask to use for the school year, and classrooms have been set up to maintain social distancing with dividers between desks.

Students and staff had their temperatures taken before entering the buildings. Baker said there are two temperature scanners at the elementary school and three at the high school.

Western Reserve Local Schools

Western Reserve Local Schools returned to in-person learning on Sept. 8.

Superintendent Doug McGlynn said about 75 percent of students chose in-person learning for the start of the school year. The remainder chose to do remote learning.

The school has layers of safety procedures, including face masks, temperature checks and social distancing. McGlynn said they went through all of the classrooms to maximize the ability to maintain six feet of social distancing in the classrooms.

Students and staff adjusted well for the first day of school, McGlynn said.

“It went really well,” McGlynn said. “We have kids just excited to be back.”


Mahoning Matters will continue to check in with Valley schools throughout the year. Do you know of a school, teacher or student doing some extraordinary work during the pandemic? Share it at

Ellen Wagner

About the Author: Ellen Wagner

Ellen Wagner reports on municipal services and budget cuts in Youngstown. She is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
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