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A week of coronavirus vaccines for many Belmont County school teachers and staff

RIGHT: Babe Sidon, a teacher at Ayers Elementary School in Martins Ferry, is vaccinated Wednesday.

STAFF IN Belmont County school districts received their COVID-19 vaccines last week, with health department staff, volunteers and school nurses conducting clinics daily at different sites.

During his Thursday talk, Gov. Mike DeWine said the four-week drive to offer at least the first of two vaccines to all school staff would be met by the vast majority of districts despite snow and ice storms. The overall goal is to have all students back in class full time by March 1.

Belmont County’s school districts have shared that aim and have stressed keeping their students in the classrooms as long as possible. Throughout the week, more than half the staff members in each district were vaccinated. Schools will now look to ways to redress any disruptions in learning this school year.

Deputy Health Commissioner Robert Sproul said more than 1,000 vaccinations were anticipated. Vaccinations kicked off Tuesday at the Belmont-Harrison Career Center with 40 staff vaccinated.

In the Martins Ferry City School District, Superintendent Jim Fogle said Wednesday that 125 people were vaccinated at the district campus, including three staff from Martins Ferry Christian School, 16 from St. Mary’s School and 106 public school staff out of 175.

“It went really, really smooth and a whole lot faster than we anticipated,” Fogle said. “We can’t say enough about the Belmont County Health Department employees who came to administer the vaccine.”

In-person learning continues to be a priority.

“We haven’t been hybrid in a long time. We don’t plan on going hybrid,” Fogle said, adding precautions likely will remain in place through the remainder of the school year. “Hopefully next year we are back to some type of normalcy, but who knows what the future will bring?”

“We want to get back to a schedule. We want consistency in the classroom,” Amanda Bell, first grade teacher, said.

“We want our kids back in the classroom where they need to be. The whole district is just doing everything possible in the best interest of our kiddos,” Kelly Bandi, first grade teacher, said.

“It is rough,” Debra Carpenter, elementary physical education teacher, said, adding her classes have been difficult for children who have been unable to play games and sports but instead must exercise in isolation in grid squares on the gym floor. Meanwhile, the equipment must be constantly cleaned after use. “I want them to be able to be normal kids. To laugh, to run around, have fun. To touch people, hug people, be able to see their faces and use equipment.”

In the Bellaire Local School District, Superintendent Darren Jenkins said Wednesday that more than 150 staff were vaccinated, or about 85 percent.

“We’re happy for the support and the partnership with the Belmont County Health Department,” Jenkins said.

St. Clairsville-Richland City Schools Superintendent Walt Skaggs said vaccinations went on there through Thursday afternoon. About 170 people were vaccinated, including staff from St. Mary’s Central Catholic School. Skaggs said 150 of his staff received the shot, or about 80 percent.

“It’s going to be beneficial. There’s always the fear of getting the virus, and the fact that you have the vaccine and you have an extra layer of protection,” he said.

Skaggs said his district started the school year at five days a week and was able to continue through the first 10 weeks before having to move briefly to a hybrid model.

“We’ve been very fortunate. We are, however, going to offer extended learning this summer for those students who have fallen behind or need to catch up,” he said.

Melissa Shelcross, a third grade teacher, said her vaccination went smoothly.

“It was just like being vaccinated for the flu,” she said, adding students in her classes have adapted to wearing masks and social distancing. “It’s definitely been rough, but we just try to make the best of it.

“I’m looking forward to more group work and partner work where they can actually work with a group and not have to social distance.”

“For us to get back to normal and have kids in the classroom and keep them there, this is the best thing,” Beth Rushton, a fifth grade social studies teacher, said.

Union Local Superintendent Ben Porter said about 120 people were vaccinated in his district Thursday. He said probation officers from the Belmont County courts also attended for vaccinations. About 60 to 70 percent of the district staff were vaccinated. He agreed that masking and other restrictions would remain in place.

“We still have to be cognizant of our surroundings,” he said. “We are very happy to be back in full in-person instruction. The weather hampered that the last couple weeks.”

On Friday, Shadyside, Barnesville and Bridgeport Exempted Village School District staffs received their vaccinations.

“We are going to have 54 shots,” Shadyside Superintendent John Haswell said. “We’re a little over 55 percent. … We’ve been back in school full time with kids since Jan. 19. … The people that are getting the shots are going to feel better about the immunity to it. We’ve been doing business as usual even without the shot.”

“We had 77 staff sign up to be vaccinated today, and that’s roughly 50 percent of our staff,” Barnesville Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Angela Hannahs said, adding the district has also stressed in-person learning.

Bridgeport Village Exempted Schools Superintendent Brent Ripley said 92 staff have signed up for vaccination, or 80 percent. He said group work has continued, but with students spaced out. He said students also are spaced out for physical education, with masks.

“We’ve tried to keep life as close to normal,” he said. “Kids thrive on that structure.”

Across the state, the precautions and disruptions of the pandemic have hurt students’ ability to learn and perform. The districts are working with the East Central Ohio Educational Service Center to determine options.

Fogle said his district is considering offering a summer school program.

“One of the things we’ll be looking at is the possibility of learning loss and continuity of our learning practices, but how they will be addressed remains to be seen,” Jenkins said. “If a school year goes beyond Memorial Day, we have trouble getting kids to show up. … I’m not certain extending the school year into the summer months would be an effective strategy.”

“It’s been nearly a year of dealing with the effects of this COVID virus,” Jenkins said, adding the spread of the virus has been from the community, not inside the school buildings. “We’re hopeful we’re on the other side of that hill. … People, generally speaking, are optimistic because the numbers in society are reducing. I think we’re seeing those same types of reduction in school. We’re happy the winter seems to have broken.”

Porter said there are plans in place to extend the UL school day.

“We’re going to offer some after-school programs to students throughout the rest of this school year, and we will be implementing summer programming this year to the greatest extent we ever have,” he said, adding he hopes the district will provide transportation and food services. “It will be optional for families.”

“We’re going to be offering an after-school program, and we’re going to be offering summer school,” Haswell said, adding an extended school year and extended school day will be offered. “Our plan is almost completed.”

Hannahs said discussions about interventions and extended school hours were being held Friday.

Ripley said students who have not done well academically will have summer help offered. Elementary students will have summer camp available, with a focus on reading and math.

Sproul also reported there have been 5,285 cases since the pandemic’s onset, with 213 people isolated at home with active cases. There have been 4,912 recoveries, 61 people have been hospitalized, and 99 people have died after being infected with the virus, with the latest death, a woman in her 90s, reported Friday.

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