The year 2020 has been strange, at times sad, and mostly difficult for everyone.

The impact from the COVID-19 pandemic has meant changes for people not only in their everyday lives, but in their professional lives as well. Around the country, those working in education watched schools shut down in March, and then spent months planning for students to return to in-person learning this fall.

As the calendar turns to 2021 on Friday, a trio of area superintendents are hopeful next year will be better than the previous one. With the announcement by Gov. Mike DeWine, adults who work in schools in Ohio will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine early in 2021 as part of Phase 1B, their hope is even greater.

“That’s exciting news for educators, I think it shows the governor prioritizes education, and it’s clear he wants children in school across the state of Ohio,” said Defiance City Schools (DCS) superintendent Bob Morton. “In school is where children are served and cared for, and personally, I think it’s fantastic because it will help put some of the worries we have at ease, knowing there will be access to the vaccine in a couple of months.”

Paulding Exempted Village Schools superintendent Ken Amstutz echoed Morton, explaining DeWine wants all Ohio students back in school by March 1.

“Hopefully the vaccine will be the beginning of the end (of the pandemic),” said Amstutz. “By March 1, there will be kids in some districts in Ohio that will have been physically out of school almost a full calendar year, which is very difficult. I’m thankful that hasn’t been the case here. I am hopeful most or all of our people will take the vaccine, to send a good message to our community that we think it’s important.”

Looking back on 2020 Erik Belcher, superintendent of Napoleon Area City Schools, explained since the pandemic hit in March, there has been no let up.

“To be honest, it’s been physically and emotionally exhausting for everyone,” said Belcher. “You wake up and you start thinking about it, and you go to bed thinking about it. When this hit, we went right to work trying to figure out how we were going to serve kids the best we can when schools were closed, and once that school year ended, we went right to work planning on how to get kids back into school in the fall.

“It’s always there, but we are doing our best to stay positive, and we will continue to follow the protocols that have kept kids in school,” added Belcher.

Morton explained that flexibility has been key in keeping kids in school, especially when cases of COVID-19 began to ramp up again.

“Looking back, I’m not sure I can say I thought our kids would be in school as much as they have been, but we were cautiously optimistic,” said Morton. “We continued to be cautiously optimistic in August and September, and midway through October, but we started to see the community spread increase in mid- to late October leading to kids and families being quarantined due to family spread.

“When we had our first cases in the school, I wasn’t sure what school would look like, but as we went to some remote days, especially after Thanksgiving, I would say I was ecstatic we made it to Christmas with as few of remote learning days as possible,” continued Morton. “You attribute that to students, staff and everyone involved following the protocols, and our maintenance staff and bus drivers doing an amazing job of sanitizing our buildings and buses.”

Amstutz is hopeful there will be more “normal” days when the calendar turns to January and beyond.

“We look forward to getting our kids back in class, keeping them in class, keeping our students and staff healthy and hopefully missing as few days as possible,” said Amstutz about 2021. “I would like to see us get back to normal as much as we can, and it’s my hope we get more normal than we are now.”

Said Belcher: “In every bad situation, there’s always good things that come out of it. Discipline problems are down and our attendance is up, because everyone understands what they were missing when schools closed down in March. I don’t think anyone is taking the opportunity to learn in-person for granted, and I think that will be the case after the pandemic ends.

“I’m excited to see what 2021 has in store, because it looks like there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel,” added Belcher.

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