Just weeks into the new academic year, school districts around Athens County are scrambling as the coronavirus spreads among staff, faculty and students.
As of Tuesday, Aug. 31, the county's five public school districts reported nearly 50 active COVID-19 cases among students and 19 among faculty and staff.
The hardest hit appears to be Trimble Local School District: 42 students and eight teachers had confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 at press time. Tuesday afternoon, the district announced that all football practices, scrimmages and games for grades 7 through 12 were canceled until Wednesday, Sept. 8 "due to COVID 19 protocols and the health and safety of our student athletes." Other extracurricular activities were unaffected.
"Some of our student athletes are sick," Trimble Local Superintendent John Hurd confirmed. Suspending football is the right thing to do not only for Trimble's students, but also for opposing teams, he added.
COVID-19 will keep Athens City Schools students at home for another week, extending a closure that began only two days into the new year. Superintendent Tom Gibbs originally had hoped that schools would reopen on Tuesday, Aug. 31. But three more transportation employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and the three who were already ill were not well enough to return to work, Gibbs said. So Athens schools will stay dark until Tuesday, Sept. 7.
The district was already short of drivers because two had resigned right before the school year started, Gibbs said. For the first two days of school, administrators were operating the radios and Athens High School Principal Chad Springer, who has a van certification, took a smaller bus route driving a large van, Gibbs said. Anybody legally allowed to drive a bus took a route.
“Literally everyone in the transportation office was on the road,” Gibbs said.
Athens City Schools was the only one of the county's five public school districts that began the school year with a mask mandate in place. Other districts recommended masks, but did not require them.
Trimble announced on Friday, Aug. 27, that masks would be required in all indoor spaces starting on Monday, Aug. 30. Federal Hocking notified parents on Sunday, Aug. 29, that it too was requiring masks starting on Monday. Alexander Local Schools followed with its own mask mandate on Tuesday.
Trimble Local Schools and Federal Hocking Local Schools began requiring masks to be worn beginning Monday, Aug. 30. Alexander Local Schools announced its own mask mandate on Tuesday.
Trimble's Hurd said the mask requirement had caused "a little" grumbling among parents, but that the community was largely behind the move.
"Mostly, they want to keep their kids in school five days a week," he said. "If this helps that happen, they'll support it."
That leaves Nelsonville-York as the only district not requiring masks now. Superintendent Rick Edwards said the district's low infection numbers — four students, two of whom were already sick before school started, and an adult who has recovered — are keeping masks away for now.
"We'll follow the numbers and see how things go," he said. "If we see a significant uptick in cases, we'll make that decision."
This article was updated Sept. 1 to correct an error in the reopening date for Athens City Schools.