Local fair officials are moving forward with plans for a full fair this year, while state officials continue to debate how to proceed.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday vetoed legislation sent to him that would negate a public health order issued July 30 limiting fairs to junior fair-only events.
The legislation would allow full fair events to begin again this year, while forming an Agricultural Society Working Group for this year to come up with protocols for safe operations of fairs and festivals.
Following last year’s order, the Henry County Agricultural Society opted to hold a junior fair only event that included a livestock exposition.
Wayne Michaelis of the Henry County Agricultural Society said he felt such an event was important for local youth who had already lost so much from schools being out of session during the pandemic and who had invested time in their animals.
“During the 2020 fair season, many county and independent fairs stepped up to the plate,” DeWine said in issuing the veto. “Coordinating with their local health departments, they worked hard to ensure social distancing requirements and mask wearing.”
Michaelis said the local ag society worked well with the Henry County Board of Health to pull off last year’s event, but the society, as of now, is planning on proceeding as if a full event fair will take place this year.
“We’ve approved the theme and the grand marshal, and we’re planning to have a full fair,” Michaelis said.
Henry County Chamber of Commerce Director Joel Miller will be honored as grand marshal this year. He was set to receive it last year, and Michaelis said that will simply carry forward.
He added he sat in on a Zoom meeting with members from around the state of the Ohio Fair Managers Association (OFMA) to discuss the issue. He said the plan at that time was that if DeWine vetoed the legislation, the association would lobby legislators to override it.
“When I get done with my main job today (Tuesday), I’m going to go home and call a representative and a senator,” Michaelis said with a chuckle.
Napoleon is home to State Rep. Jim Hoops and Sen. Rob McColley, both Republicans who also voted in favor of the legislation. The bill passed 22-7 in the Senate and 54-30 in the House.
All dissenting votes came from Democrats.
During committee hearings on the legislation, Rod Arter, president of OFMA, testified that the restrictions were a hardship for fairs around the state last year.
“The OFMA certainly prioritizes the junior fair activities at our fair,” Arter said. “They are a cornerstone of the event and allow Ohio’s youth to be recognized for the hard work they put towards their projects and raising their livestock.
“However, junior fair alone does not make a county fair financially stable,” he added.
The state did provide up to $50,000 to fairs which decided to hold junior fair events, including Henry County.
“We were financially conservative and the $50,000 really helped us out,” Michaelis said.
However, he also noted revenue was only about $4,000 last year.
“That does hurt, but you also don’t have some of the bills coming in that you normally do,” Michaelis said.
Arter pointed out now is the planning time for county fairs and festivals, and officials on the societies, consisting of volunteers, need clarification on how to proceed.
DeWine said he would continue to discuss the issue with health officials and others going forward.
DESHLER — Pirate Park will receive more updates with matching funds approved by the Ohio legislature at the end of 2020.
Within Senate Bill 310 was a state capital funding program with funds earmarked for local parks, recreation and conservation projects.
Deshler’s Pirate Park was approved for $21,000 in funding. Work at the park includes three sidewalk corners, with each corner featuring two walkways; sidewalks in front of the parking area of the library; and three exercise playground equipment devices through the Wensink family.
Deshler Community Development Coordinator DonL Parsons told the Northwest Signal the idea for the update at Pirate Park began in December 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the plans until September. He said the application was submitted to Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, and Rep. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon, to include it for consideration.
Parsons said the overall project costs are estimated at $45,000. It was reported the library and Wensink family will also share in the project costs, and Parsons said the village is covering approximately $16,000 of the work.
Parsons said it was a bit of a surprise the village will receive the funds, as he noted the funding process was very competitive.
“It’s really exciting for us to receive this,” Parsons said. “We sent in the application and hoped.”
More than 290 parks, recreation and conservation projects were approved overall. Six projects from metropolitan areas were approved at $1 million or more, and projects were approved in amounts down to $4,124.
Parsons said he was able to follow up with Hoops Tuesday and learned the funds will be run through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, similar to other grants the village utilizes from the department. He said the village will pay for and have the work completed and then receive approximately half of the overall project cost back when proof of completion is submitted.
Pirate Park stands at the site of the former Deshler Elementary School, which was demolished when the Patrick Henry Local Schools district consolidated to a single campus at the site of the high and middle schools. After finalizing the deed for the property in 2017, Deshler Village Council named the site Pirate Park after the mascot of the former Deshler school system.
Sidewalk projects were recently done at the main village park and the village has also utilized grant opportunities for a number of updates to Reservoir Park. Parsons said the village will continue to work on providing the best parks possible for Deshler residents.
“We’re very proud of our parks, and we’re doing our best to upgrade them,” he said. “We want the parks to be something the public wants to use.”
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HAMLER — Patrick Henry Local Schools also reported a smooth return to in-person classes following its holiday break.
“Everyone is working hard a staying safe,” Superintendent Josh Biederstedt said to the board of education Tuesday. “I’m proud of everyone.”
Biederstedt shared he recently did a student profile for a freshman, and when he was asked about what he likes about attending PH, he said he enjoys that he gets to come to school and see his friends.
“That was good for me to hear. It was a needed experience,” Biederstedt said.
Biederstedt said there were a few days of remote learning before the break to serve as a buffer, adding this helped reduce exposure in two cases. Students returned to the building at the beginning of the year and Biederstedt reported no noticeable increase in positive cases or quarantines.
“I think people did a good job of keeping their circles small,” he said. “We’ve been at this long enough that I think people realize being here is important. We’ve been back for about a couple weeks, and we’re doing the best we can.”
Student Liaison Meredith Myers noted students are doing their part in following safety guidelines and made note of a recent state decision to change quarantine guidelines.
The previous state guidelines determined anyone who is considered a close contact — closer than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes within a 24-hour period — with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 should be quarantined, whether or not they were wearing a face mask.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced the state was breaking from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and would no longer quarantine those close contacts as long as the exposure occurred in a classroom setting with all individuals wearing masks. Quarantines will still be utilized for close contacts that occur in extra-curricular settings, including sports, as well as if masking and distancing protocols are not being followed in the classroom.
Biederstedt said the state listened to concerns of school districts, and made a decision that had the backing of research. He said the decision helps the district keep more kids in the school. He said, while previously a case would result in 12-13 students being quarantined, the new guidelines cuts this down to about two.
“But, the other things we are doing are just as important,” he said. “With social distancing, masks and hand washing, we’ve asked the staff to double down on that. We need to take advantage of a great opportunity to stay in the school building.”
Biederstedt said preliminary information is also being gathered as the state enters phase 1B of COVID vaccination, as the process will soon begin considering school personnel. The state time line has school employees in the group able to receive the vaccine the week of Feb. 1.
Biederstedt reported an anonymous interest survey has been distributed to school personnel. He said about 100 responses have been received, with 64% indicating they are interested in receiving the vaccine.
“We’re taking the lead of the health department, and they will tell us what route to take and who we are working with,” Biederstedt said of the vaccines. “When it’s time, we want to be prepared and get shots for the people who are wanting it.”
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HOLGATE — Since returning from the holiday break, the district is not seeing a significant number of COVID-19 cases.
Superintendent Kelly Meyers said the district has had two students and two staff members with confirmed cases, leading to two students quarantined as close contacts.
“We were all carefully watching if we would experience any kind of a surge after the holidays ... but I’m happy to report that, since coming back, we’ve not seen a significant surge in case numbers,” Meyers said, adding four of those individuals have returned to school. “Everyone has or is recovering, so we’re very grateful for that.”
The state was previously following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that anyone who is considered a close contact — closer than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes within a 24-hour period — with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 should be quarantined, whether or not they were wearing a face mask. In late December, the state announced that individuals will no longer be quarantined as close contacts as long as the exposure occurred in a classroom or bus setting with all safety protocols followed such as wearing masks. Quarantines will still be utilized for close contacts that occur in extra-curricular settings, including sports, and in the cafeteria. In announcing the change, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said a study performed at the state level that looked at COVID-19 transmission in classrooms supported the decision.
Meyers said the decision is welcomed by the district.
“That’s a huge thing because we’ve had a lot of students quarantined for two weeks, some students more than once,” Meyers said. “That’s a big gap in terms of learning, so that was a very positive change.”
Meyers noted the changes do not mean the district can let up on its protocols.
“We’re not changing any of our protocol that we’re doing every day,” Meyers said. “We’re going to adhere to all of that because we know that’s definitely making an impact on our ability to stay with five days a week in-person instruction.
“We don’t want to let up on any of that because we know it’s working,” she added.
As far as COVID-19 vaccinations, Meyers said the district is working with the Henry County Health Department to coordinate the portion involving staff and it will likely be held onsite at the school.
School staff are included in Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan, and the earliest staff could receive vaccines is the week of Feb. 1. However, Meyers said, due to the limited supply of the vaccine, it’s unclear when the local health department will have enough vaccine to start administering it to school staff.
Meyers said approximately 100 people connected with the district — staff, teachers, coaches, volunteers and regular substitutes — would be eligible for the vaccine and she is surveying who is willing to receive it. Of the 69 people who responded so far, Meyers said 45 of them want the vaccine equaling around 65%. The remainder have until Friday to respond to the survey.