MERCERVILLE — While the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly ended in-person instruction in schools in the spring, South Gallia looks toward the new—and markedly different—year ahead.
“None of us has experienced anything like this in our lifetime, and we can get through it together but we’ve got to be able to work together to do what’s best for our students, keeping them at the center of every decision we make, and doing what’s best for them in every facet, whether it’s in terms of academics, safety, athletics, or extracurriculars,” Bray Shamblin, principal of South Gallia Middle and High Schools, said. “We want to keep them safe in every sense of the word. And after keeping them safe, what can we do to educate them and the best possible way that we can do that.”
Debates about reopening schools have been prominent as COVID-19 cases rise in both the state of Ohio and across the country. Because COVID-19 is an infectious virus, the safety of staff, students, and their families has become the biggest concern for the coming year.
Shamblin says that South Gallia has been communicating with the state, the CDC, the Gallia County Health Department and other school districts to “provide the safest possible circumstances that we can provide.”
Among the precautions South Gallia students will have to take include maintaining a six-feet social distance when possible and wearing a mask when not possible. (Editor’s note: this policy is subject to change given an order which Governor Mike DeWine noted during his Tuesday news conference which would mandate masks for K-12 students. This story was written prior to the order.)
According to Shamblin, all students in the middle and high school will be required to wear masks. At the middle school, where classes stick together for the entirety of the day, teachers will rotate rather than students. Because class schedules are much more individual at the high school and this is not possible, staggered class changes will likely be implemented.
“Obviously it’s going to make changes for how we operate breakfast, how we operate lunch, and how we operate class changes,” Shamblin said. “We’ll have to utilize different area of the building to accommodate those things in trying to cut down on the number of individuals in the same area.”
South Gallia will also follow heightened cleaning protocols to ensure that the school is as clean and safe as possible. According to Shamblin, the school has already been practicing the protocols through the summer to prepare for the school year.
Shamblin is cautiously hopeful about the possibility of the fall sports season.
“Right now, the plan is to have fall sports as normal, but also being aware that that could change at any given moment,” Shamblin said.
Official practices begin this week and are being held in conjecture with public health protocols outlined by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) and public health entities. Some of these protocols include regular temperature and symptom checks and documentation and following proper cleaning guidelines.
But students need not return to in-person classes if they feel unsafe.
“If a family and students are not comfortable coming into the building, we obviously want to respect and honor their wishes,” Shamblin said. “We do have a digital platform that our students can utilize if they want to do that, K-12. Regarding that, they would just need to be signed up for the nine weeks, because we don’t want students and families switching every other week.”
If, like last spring, in-person instruction is halted, all students can finish the semester on the digital platform. Before the school year begins, staff will undergo professional training in order to best learn how to use the platform.
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Sharla Moody is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing from Gallipolis, Ohio. She is a graduate of River Valley High School and currently attends Yale University.