COVID-19 Update from WCS Superintendent, Brian Hamler

10/21/2020


Dear WCS Families,


Last week we saw an uptick in the key metrics of coronavirus which led to a new designation of RED or level 3 on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System. Coupled with yesterday’s announcement that Columbus City Schools are pushing the start of in-person learning to January, I thought it is important to inform you of our thought process as we make decisions about which instructional delivery model is most appropriate. Today, we know more about the virus and have access to much more information than we did when we wrote our reset/restart plan.

    

In the WCS 2020 Reset/Restart Plan, we indicated that the Health Advisory System would be one piece of information used to make decisions about which delivery model to use, but we also intended to always consult with the experts at Franklin County Public Health. I know it can be confusing for you and a little unsettling as you wonder what would trigger us to move to an all-in model, meaning students would come back to school full time five days a week or back to a remote model where students would work from home five days a week. The opinions vary widely as evidenced by the wide variety of delivery models from district to district.  Some central Ohio districts are all-in or will be soon and some, like Columbus are still remote.


Let me take a moment to explain our thought process and some of the considerations we use. These are our guiding principles:

  • Your child’s safety and the safety of our staff will always be at the forefront of our thinking.

  • We know, and can support it with evidence, that students learn best when they are coming to school.

  • We will rely on the expert advice of our health professionals at Franklin County Public Health.

  • We will constantly monitor key indicators such as nurse’s office visits, student absences, staff absences, and community spread in our attendance area.

  • We must be nimble and ready to switch in a short time dependent on the advice from FCPH.


As of now, I’m happy to report we are not considering closing schools and returning to a remote model. I meet weekly with the Commissioner of Franklin County Public Health, the Director of Columbus Public Health and a group of epidemiologists to discuss the risk level and trends in and around Whitehall. Based on our data, we are not seeing an outbreak in our schools or in our community that would suggest a change. FCPH is still recommending that the appropriate model of instruction is a hybrid model.  


I know the calls you get every time a student has tested positive can be alarming and give the sense of an outbreak. However, those calls are not only required by public health order, they are meant to keep you aware of cases in your child’s school with complete transparency. I want to share a little data with you to provide a little context.  It is not meant to dispute the seriousness of COVID or give you the impression that you can let your guard down, but rather to present the facts as we know them today.

  • We have had 12 students in a district of 3,400 test positive since the beginning of school. None of them contracted the virus here at school and most were kept home by their parents when they showed symptoms. Only one student caused an exposure because they came to school with symptoms.  

  • As of Friday, we have 28 cases in the Whitehall attendance area which represents 19,000 residents. 

  • We are finishing up a fall sports season in which we had 2 cases (in the same family) in our soccer programs. Football, volleyball, tennis, and cross country reported no cases.


The main point I’d like to make here is the spread is much lower in the schools than it is in the community, so one could argue that your child is safer in our buildings than they are in the community based on the data. Our PPE, social distancing, and cleaning protocols combined with our indoor air quality control processes provide a safe and responsible environment for our children to learn in person. These safety protocols in our schools work and everyone from our staff to our families need to be celebrated for taking the precautions to keep themselves and their neighbors safe.


Please find comfort in the fact that we are on top of this, we will protect your child to the very best of our ability, and we will make decisions based on good information and data.  During extraordinary times, we must do extraordinary things. I thank you for your cooperation and support. 


Be great and stay safe,


Brian Hamler




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