Important Information on the Return to School and 2021-2022 COVID-19 Operating Protocols

Dear AACS Families,

As we prepare to start a new school year, one that we hoped would be post-Covid, our goal for this year is to have every student in school five days per week and to mitigate the quarantines that would potentially keep large groups of students and staff out of school for 14 days at a time.

I understand in talking with many parents and staff members over the past couple of weeks that there are conflicting, but very legitimate, concerns no matter what we do. I truly do respect a parent’s decision to decide what is best for their child. I also understand that whether we mandate masking or leave it optional, there are many parents who will not be happy with how that affects their individual child’s wellbeing.

There is a big division about this topic and no universal right answer. What is best for your child may not be what is best for your neighbor’s child. I understand that everyone sees through the lens of how it affects them or their child’s situation. Even the teachers, whom we surveyed this week, are split on what is the best path forward. The health departments are strongly recommending masks for staff and students. There are compelling arguments that have been brought to me against masks as well. Delta variant cases are definitely on the rise, yet neighboring school districts in the four county area are varied between mandated masking and just strongly recommending or making them optional.

The headlines in the paper today talk about masking recommendations and record numbers of cases in Florida. Our cases are rising here locally as well. We are attempting to do what is best for the district as a whole, and it is not an easy decision or one that we have taken lightly.

First and foremost, we encourage and prefer all our children back in school 5 days per week. We know children learn better in a classroom setting with their peers. We know for most this is better for learning, for their mental health, and for their socialization. The following has been decided regarding the children returning back to school on Wednesday, August 18th:

This decision is what we believe is best overall for the families and students in Ashtabula Area City Schools based on the information that we have at this time.

• Due to the federal mandate, students must wear masks on buses.

• PreK-12 students will wear masks in common areas, for example in the hallway, changing classes, going to the restroom, working in stations, etc. except when eating and drinking at breakfast and lunch.
 
• When students PreK-12, are at their desks (with shields in place), masks are highly recommended, but not mandatory.

• Thorough cleaning protocols will be in place as before.

• Air quality will be outstanding with our air flow system, new Bipolar Ionization (BPI) system, and the best filters available on the market.
 
• We strongly encourage considering vaccinations for all eligible students and will incentivize with a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant/grocery store at vaccination clinics scheduled at the secondary campus on August 19th and 20th for all students 12 years and older. More on that soon.
 
• Upon entering district buildings, all guests and visitors MUST wear a mask.
 
• A remote option (Online Learning) will be available to parents who feel the plan is not what is best for their particular student. This will be with live teachers on a school schedule much the same as remote was last year.
 
• If you change your mind about in-person versus remote based on this new information, the survey is now open for you to have the opportunity to request the online option. The survey will close on Monday, August 16, 2021 at noon.

• Additional information will be forthcoming for the parents who have already completed the survey for the online learning option.

• COVID 19 Operating Protocols are available on the district website.

• Be prepared. This plan can and likely will change based on changing circumstances to ensure the continued safety of our students and staff.

We believe this plan gives a reasonable in-person option that keeps students and staff safe and increases our chances to not have to close down due to quarantines, while also giving any parents who do not feel that the plan I just laid out is best for their child the option to have their students work remotely with live teachers and following a regular school schedule.

I understand that families may want to discuss the options, but know that we will need to do a lot of planning and shuffling around prior to school starting next Wednesday, so time is of the essence.

I know that about half of you receiving this news will be happy and an equal share upset or disappointed. We are all tired of Covid disrupting our lives. Trust me, I am definitely sick of it too. Please know that the decisions made have been done so with much thought and concern for all of the children at AACS taking as much into consideration as possible. We will always look out for the health and safety as well as the academic well-being of our students and staff.

Please go to our website at aacs.net to find details on the safety protocols and also the survey if you wish to choose the online option. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more information as well.

Thank you and May God bless you and your family,

Dr. Mark Potts, Superintendent