MOUNT VERNON – As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, school districts across Ohio have spent the summer months thinking of creative ways to keep students and staff members safe when instruction resumes in August.
For Mount Vernon City Schools, one of those safety solutions wasn't far away. In fact, it came from a local business located less than a mile from the high school.
The school district has partnered with Replex Plastics, at 11 Mount Vernon Ave., to install plexiglass protection barriers at every city school for the upcoming academic year. According to Replex Plastics President Mark Schuetz, the company is currently manufacturing around 600 partitions for Mount Vernon City Schools, which will be used at reading tables, teachers' desks, and in school offices.
"Every classroom in the district will have some form of it," Mount Vernon Superintendent Bill Seder said, "and all of our offices will be using these partitions as well.”
Gov. Mike DeWine has ordered that all K-12 students must wear facial coverings during classroom instruction this school year. Mount Vernon City Schools has purchased plastic face shields for its teachers as well, Seder said.
These plastic partitions will simply add another layer of protection between students, teachers and district staff members, in the effort to reduce the transmission of respiratory droplets, which are most likely to carry COVID-19 from one person to another.
"We’re just trying our best to kind of double-up our prevention efforts," Seder said.
The partitions will be placed at reading tables, often found in elementary schools, so that three students and a teacher can work in close proximity while also remaining separated by plexiglass. Every teacher will have a partition at their desk, Seder said, and all school offices will utilize them as well, which will help shield staff members from visitors.
Mount Vernon City Schools will pay approximately $20,000 for the barriers, Seder said. The district has also invested in face shields for its teachers and spare masks for its students and staff members, if they are not able to bring one from home.
Mount Vernon is expected to begin the school year using a "hybrid" instruction model, with classroom learning taking place two days per week and remote learning taking place the other three. Students will be split into two cohorts – "A" and "B" – which will attend school on separate days each week, to decrease congestion and increase social distancing.
Seder said Monday that around 80 percent of Mount Vernon's 3,900 students are planning to participate in the hybrid learning model this fall, while the remaining 20 percent have enrolled in the district's Digital Academy.
LOCAL SOLUTION: The partnership between Mount Vernon City Schools and Replex Plastics began in July, Seder said, when a member of the district's maintenance/safety staff approached the company with the idea.
After touring the high school campus and talking with school officials, Schuetz crafted several design samples. He worked with district leaders to enhance the product over time. Over the next two weeks, Schuetz said Replex will manufacture hundreds of the classroom-specific partitions, so they will be ready for installation by the first day of school on Aug. 25.
"We're going to be busy here for the next couple of weeks," Schuetz said with a laugh.
Replex, which manufactures and sells mirrors to companies across the world, had not considered crafting classroom partitions until it was approached by Mount Vernon City Schools last month, Schuetz said. But that's not to say the company hasn't played an active role in helping the community since the pandemic began.
Replex has manufactured protective barriers for all kinds of local businesses, including lawyers' offices, dentists' offices, pharmacies, fitness centers, general business reception areas, and even agencies like Knox Public Health.
"It's been a diverse set of locations..." Schuetz said with a laugh. "We just got involved trying to help others."
Replex noticed early on that it was well-sourced in acrylic, Schuetz said, which allowed it to mass-produce plastic partitions for those who needed them. He said the local projects have "been enough to keep us busy" during the pandemic, and as word has spread about the company's capabilities, the workload has grown over time.
"We just kind of started and kept putting one foot in front of the other," Schuetz said, "and here we are."
Schuetz said the company is thrilled to work with Knox County's largest school district during a time of need. It is also willing to work with any other local school district, Schuetz added, to make products that suit their needs.
"We're proud to be a part of this, we truly are," he said. "We've never been involved with anything like this."
Seder said the school district is proud of the partnership as well. While it could have bought its partitions online, like many other school districts, Seder said Mount Vernon gladly chose to work with a local vendor.
“We just had some really good connections here within our maintenance/safety staff, who knew folks at Replex and reached out to them," Seder said. "We kind of are keeping our money local and certainly appreciate that relationship.”
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