OTTAWA — Ottawa-Glandorf Superintendent Don Horstman stood up in front of a crowd in Ottawa on Tuesday morning, his gold, cloth face mask with a blue Titan mascot covering his mouth and nose.
It remained right there as he spoke to business leaders at the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast at Ottawa’s American Legion for nearly an hour about what’s being done to make sure school starts later this month despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve had people tell me they don’t like wearing the mask. I get that. No one does,” Horstman said. “My comment was if I have to wear this to get your kids to school on Aug. 25, then I’ll wear it. We need to have those kids in school.”
It proved to be a bit prophetic. Six hours later, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine stood before reporters and people watching his press briefing over the Internet and delivered a similar message, albeit with an order requiring students from kindergarten through 12th grade to wear masks throughout the day.
“If we start back in school, can we stay in school?” DeWine asked. “If you start virtual, will you be able to move to in-person? All that is going to depend on the community spread.”
DeWine’s latest order has exemptions for people who can’t remove a mask without assistance; those with significant behavioral or psychological issues; people with an anxiety or tactile aversion; students with autism; and children with a facial deformity that blocks airways.
Horstman was adamant the high school and two elementary buildings in his district would do what they must to open on time this year. He expressed concerns about the lasting damage to children if they didn’t, citing guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“What they stated was the risks that kids have been exposed to by not being in school are much greater than the risks they’re going to be exposed to coming to school and possibly exposed to someone with COVID,” Horstman said. “It’s all the mental health issues, the socialization, a lot of kids eating breakfast and lunch in our buildings as a nutritional thing. The kids need to be in school, around each other and adults.”
Ottawa-Glandorf’s district will unveil detailed plans to staff on Wednesday and release them to the public Friday, Horstman said. The school board will be asked to approve it Tuesday, Aug. 11.
The buildings will be closed to the public and bus use will be minimized, so areas can be cleaned and sanitized. Addressing a flu uptick over the winter, Ottawa-Glandorf schools purchased equipment to disinfect classrooms, restrooms and the buses, which will come in handy. Helping the custodial staff with sanitation is the key, he said, whether that’s a teacher, a bus driver or the superintendent himself.
“Everybody realizes there is no ‘this isn’t my job’ stuff,” Horstman said.
The district didn’t look at offering classes online for people concerned with returning to the buildings, Horstman said, because of the cost concerns. Administrators and teachers will meet next week to consider what they’d switch to if in-person learning couldn’t work in the future. He did say they learned some valuable lessons during the rapid switch to online learning in the spring, namely to try to use the same platform for all classes.
Horstman said he was proud of the work the Putnam County schools put together in coordination with the Putnam County Health Department to get students back in the classroom.
“Whatever plan we come up with, no one’s going to be happy with it 100%,” Horstman said. “We’re going to do the best we can to keep kids and staff safe and make sure we keep them there every day for as long as possible.”