Olentangy Schools: Superintendent Mark Raiff looking forward to days of full in-person classes

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek

Getting staff members vaccinated for COVID-19 has been an important piece of the puzzle in returning students to the classroom full time, according to Olentangy Schools Superintendent Mark Raiff.

Staff members who opted to be vaccinated were scheduled to receive the first dose Feb. 7 at Berlin High School in a clinic-style event with the Delaware Public Health District. The event was available to any public school employee within Delaware County.

Mark Raiff

“Our hope would be that would lead us to (full) in-person school,” Raiff told the school board Jan. 27. 

The district primarily has operated in a hybrid attendance model thus far during the 2020-21 school year.

This means, Raiff told board members, that Gov. Mike DeWine’s intended deadline for students to be back in school by March 1, an agreement he had asked districts to make as part of the vaccine rollout for school staff, “doesn’t apply to us.”

Still, Raiff told ThisWeek, having staff vaccinated is an important step in returning to in-person learning full time, which has “always been our goal.”

Raiff said he plans to update board members on the district’s attendance plans at the board’s Feb. 11 meeting, which will be livestreamed at 6:30 p.m. at olentangy.k12.oh.us, although it’s nearly impossible to predict what that report will include, he said.

“What I thought I wanted to do and what we were able to do have changed” in the days leading up to past board meetings, Raiff said.

School board president Julie Wagner Feasel told ThisWeek the attendance model is Raiff’s decision, not the board’s.

"The board of education has entrusted the attendance-model decision to Superintendent Raiff and the district's leadership team, just like has been done for years when determining calamity days,” she said. “The board does not vote on the district's attendance model. However, it has always been the goal of the school board and administration to return the hybrid students to the buildings five days a week when it can be done in a safe manner."

Staff absence and the lack of readily available substitute teachers has been a driver in the district’s decisions to remain in the hybrid model, Raiff said.

“When you have a staff case and you have people in quarantine, that’s a big concern,” he said. “Our numbers have been stable, but that could be because we’ve been in the hybrid model.”

“Getting staff vaccinated mitigates that risk of staff absences,” he said. “And you feel more confident with staff being safer.”

Raiff said 88% of district staff, including some long-term substitute teachers, have opted to be vaccinated. The priority, he said, is on those who interact closely with students on a daily basis.

The second round of vaccinations is scheduled to be administered March 6. Those were scheduled individually by the health district as first doses were given. He said the health district also is working to schedule first doses for those who weren’t vaccinated Feb. 7.

“(Delaware County school superintendents) have faith in (county Health Commissioner) Shelia Hiddleson and their team and their ability to pull off this rollout,” Raiff said.

With most medical advisers suggesting immunity two weeks following the second vaccination, Raiff said, that pushes any possible benefit to in-person schooling to March 20. But, he said, that’s the last week of classes before spring break.

“Do we need to quarantine after break? That’s a question that’ we’re asking ourselves,” Raiff said. “Locally, our numbers have been down, but nationally, some are anticipating another surge with all the (virus) variants.”

Statewide, county and local indicators will continue to guide his decision on student attendance, Raiff said.

“The decision (on attendance) is mine to make, but I’ve gotten good counsel from a lot of people,” he said.

In the past, he said, district officials have figured it would take up to two weeks to move from hybrid to full in-school instruction to allow for some logistics, such as bus routes, to be worked out and to give “families adequate time to plan.”

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews