WILMINGTON — In a COVID update, the Wilmington City Schools (WCS) superintendent said the district is looking into the possibility of having the National Guard help with bus driver shortages, and that WCS tried hard to become part of a quarantine alternative pilot program but was denied.
WCS Supt. Mindy McCarty-Stewart presented a 20-plus minute update at Monday’s school board session held at Holmes Elementary School. WCS is the only school district in Clinton County with a mask requirement after the board of education voted in late August to prescribe that masks be worn by all staff and students preK through 12 for the first grading period.
The past two weeks have seen a drop in new positive COVID cases among WCS students, with the numbers of newly quarantined students involving school exposure also improving. The number of new student cases has gone from 17 the week the mandate went into effect, down to eight and 11 the past two weeks, according to data shared by the superintendent.
A special board meeting is tentatively planned for Oct. 11 to decide whether to extend the mask requirement beyond the first grading period.
McCarty-Stewart spoke about challenges and proposed solutions in several areas, such as bus transportation, food service, and classroom staffing.
On transportation, she said officials have come up with creative options to make it less likely school has to be cancelled. WCS started the school year fully staffed with bus drivers, but life and COVID have kept things from working smoothly, added the superintendent.
Earlier in the month, McCarty-Stewart said although the busing plan options are not ideal solutions, so far the options have enabled the district schools to remain open except once.
On Monday, she explained it takes about a six- to eight-week training period to become licensed to drive a school bus. The good news is that two new would-be bus drivers have begun the steps.
On that note, McCarty-Stewart asked the audience to spread the word about the need for bus drivers, and for interested people to contact the district to find out about the procedure.
The National Guard prospect is something the superintendent is working on with the county EMA director to make an official request, joining with any other county schools, she said.
Due to the pandemic’s effects on sectors of the economy, previously ordered food items have run short on truck deliveries, McCarty-Stewart reported.
The solutions have been ordering from other suppliers and substituting food items.
There have been 247 teacher absences requiring a substitute teacher, with 113 of those absences filled internally. That involves teachers giving up their 40-minute planning period to help cover for the absent teacher.
McCarty-Stewart spoke about a state-approved pilot program that offers a new blueprint for students exposed to COVID, with the goal of keeping students in school. Just down the road, Clinton-Massie is one of 10 Warren County area school districts taking part.
She said she worked hard to advocate for Wilmington City Schools being part of the pilot too, contacting the governor’s office, State Rep. Shane Wilkin, and the Ohio Department of Education superintendent, but to no avail. Participation of students in the pilot program is voluntary.
She hopes the pilot program shows that uninfected kids can stay in school after a COVID exposure, and that it’s something all Ohio school districts can do, which Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said is the aim if the pilot’s data support making it statewide.
Since mid-August, WCS has had 86 students test positive for COVID; it’s had 175 students quarantine at home due to school exposure; and 267 students who were quarantined due to either family or some other outside-school exposure.
When it comes to WCS staff, since the start of the school year 22 have tested positive for COVID, said McCarty-Stewart.
Of those, 14 were able to return to work after their 10-day isolation; for two staffers it took 12 to 15 days to be healthy enough to go back to work; it took four staffers between 16 to 25 days to return to school; and two staff members still are unable to return after 35-plus days.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.