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Martin Ferry schools relaxing social distancing in classrooms

Martins Ferry City School District Superintendent Jim Fogle, left, works with board member Brian McFarland during a past meeting. Fogle on Tuesday announced some relaxation of social distancing in classrooms following COVID-19 infection studies as the district works toward resuming in-person learning. McFarland was also named board president. T-L File Photo

MARTINS FERRY — The Martins Ferry City School District Board of Education started 2021 with talk about how to resume in-person education during the COVID-19 pandemic and some students’ need to be in the classroom setting to avoid falling behind.

Following a week of remote learning after the Christmas and New Year break, the district is resuming its hybrid model of remote and in-person learning in January.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has announced that adult staff of school districts will be eligible to receive vaccinations in February, and he has expressed the desire to see in-person schooling five days a week resume March 1.

Superintendent Jim Fogle said of the 1,399 students currently enrolled — 556 elementary school students, 420 middle-schoolers and 423 high school students — there are 197 high-schoolers using entirely remote learning, 147 at the middle school and 114 at the elementary school.

In answer to a board member’s question, Fogle said he number of students apparently “falling behind” and in possible danger of not passing a class seems to have increased.

“We do have a percentage that’s a little higher than what would normally be … ,” Fogle said, adding he did not have a precise number at the moment. “We know that in-person learning is the best, period, and the virtual learning is not for everyone.”

Fogle said he, assistant principals and principals visited households to encourage students who might not be participating.

“That’s the problem that we’re seeing. They have the avenue due to the grant that we received for internet access. We got a $35,000 grant, and we bought 100 Chromebooks with internet access and then paid for that subscription through the year,” he said. “Our teachers call. Our counselors call. If they’re not doing it right now, a lot of it is they’re not making the attempt.”

In response to a comment from board member Nick Stankovich, Fogle said student-athletes must maintain their 2.0 grade point average, even though the Ohio Athletic Association has dropped that standard this year.

Fogle also announced some relaxed social distancing and quarantining policies following guidelines from the state, in response to studies and observations of the virus. It is now acceptable to social distance at 3 feet rather than 6 feet in the classroom. It has been found that if a student in a classroom tests positive for COVID-19, the students in class quarantined as close contacts generally are not coming down with the virus.

“I talked with our nurses the other day,” Fogle said. “We’ve quarantined 72 students that we’ve considered to be direct contacts, and of those 72 students zero, none of them, have contracted the virus after we sent them home for that quarantine period.”

Fogle said 3-foot social distancing only pertains to classrooms and school bus rides.

“As long as the mask is worn throughout the day, then the 3 feet is acceptable,” Fogle said.

“All other parts of the venue are still to adhere to the 6-foot social distancing,” Fogle said. “We will social distance to 6 feet where feasible.”

In other matters, Brain McFarland was named president of the board and Stankovich vice president.

The board also named former school board member Joe Lovell to his second three-year term representing the district at the Belmont-Harrison Joint Vocational Career Centers. Lovell was recently recognized by the Ohio School Boards Association for 15 total years active membership on both boards.JVS board members are not required to be board members in other districts.

The district also marked School Board Appreciation Month. Board members received their certificates of appreciation from the Ohio School Boards Association.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each of you for your dedication to the district,” Fogle said.

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