Catholic School in Loveland plans return to the classroom Monday, August 24, 2020

By Chuck Gibson

 LOVELAND, OH (August 17, 2020) – St. Columban Catholic School is set to welcome all 488 of their registered K-8 grade students back into the classroom for a full capacity, 5-day school week to start the 2020-2021 school year Monday, August 24 

Mrs. Jo Rhoten, Principal, St. Columban School (Chuck Gibson File)

School Principal, Mrs. Jo Rhoten is stepping into her 45th year as an educator. She has spent 42 of those years right here in Loveland at St. Columban School. She started as a teacher then moved into administration as Assistant Principal four years before transitioning to Principal where she will now begin her 16th year leading the school.  She is proud to lead her staff including 27 teachers, 5 auxiliary teachers (speech therapist, intervention specialists etc. . .) and teacher’s aides who worked tirelessly throughout the summer months planning and preparing for a return to the classroom.

 “We’re planning to come back five full days,” said Rhoten. “That is today’s decision.”

Rhoten was in a principal’s meeting with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Catholic Schools Superintendent and Director of Educational Services, Susie Gibbons in early August where they discussed guidelines for opening and potential closing of the schools during the pandemic crisis. Gibbons told the Principals even if public schools in the area were to close; it is the decision of the Principal and Pastor to remain open, or to close. She says “all bets are off” if any mandate from the Governor comes. In that case, they would follow the orders mandated by the Governor.

 “It’s always about what is best for the kids,” Rhoten said. “If it is best to come, we’ll come, if it is best to stay home, we’ll stay home. The staff and all personnel fall into that as well; students first, but it is about all of us.”

St. Columban School, Loveland, OH Grades K-8 (Chuck Gibson)

Because it is about everyone, St. Columban School is also offering families a “distance learning” option to stay at home. The school provided families with all the “responsible return” plan information on the school website in early August along with a deadline for making the selection.  Once a choice is made, the student/family is committed to that choice for the full trimester term.

Here’s a look at a few key pieces of how it will “look” returning to the classrooms at St. Columban School:

  • Classrooms have been decluttered and desks spaced for social distancing
  • Students, Teachers & Staff will be required to wear masks at all grade levels
  • There will be many mask breaks (go outside to take mask off)
  • There will be social distancing on the bus and getting off the bus
  • There is a car-ride procedure
  • Cafeteria open only to get food w/separate entry and exit 1 grade at a time
  • Meals will be eaten in the student safe place in classroom
  • Cleaning will go on throughout the day/Students clean own desk w/supervision


    That is a very small, but important part of their “responsible return” plan detailing all the procedures to achieve the goal for students, faculty and staff to return safely and minimize health risks at St. Columban School. The full plan was submitted to Hamilton County Public Health for approval and can be reviewed on the website.

The 8th grade classroom of Mr. Chad Drinnen with desks spaced apart (Chuck Gibson)

“We have to train teachers to train the kids how to wash hands, wear masks, and social distance,” said Rhoten. “We’re going to practice these things. It’s going to look very different. We have to do it. To be able to come back, we just have to do it.”

The effort to get the school ready for classroom learning stretched well beyond Rhoten and the St. Columban School staff, students and families; it reached to the entire St. Columban Church/Parish community. Rhoten, and school administrative assistant Angie Geier, spoke at length about the many changes and work done inside and out during the summer to prepare. Classrooms and hallways were

completely cleaned and received a fresh coat of new paint. Multiple purchases were made Chromebooks for the kids, software for the teachers, desks, plexiglas . . . The list seems endless.

 “We have a filtration system on our entire HVAC,” said Geier. “That’s a brand new piece, just put in a few weeks ago, to help with germs; to keep us safe, to return safely and smartly too.”

Rev. Larry Tensi, Pastor, St. Columban Church (Provided)

Rhoten says the school has “spent a fortune” to ensure a safe environment for learning. She credits the parish finance council for giving them the green light to get what they needed. The tally, just for the Chromebooks and instructional software to assist with learning here in the school and remotely, was in excess of $100,000.

“Thanks to the generosity of the parish; that’s huge,” Rhoten said. “It’s because the parish values the school. We are very appreciative of it. It is part of our strength. Our faith is who we are. Our community is based around our faith and family values. Who could ask for anything better?”

Rhoten knows it won’t be perfect despite great ideas from families surveyed at the end of the past school year and a plan they worked on all summer. She is concerned about the impact restrictions will have on the kids. She is concerned about the burnout effect on teachers and staff trying to do everything to get it right.

There will be bugs to work out. They’ll be flexible and do what they must to fix it. Everyone is in the exact same place with so many unknowns and things they can’t even anticipate. St. Columban has tried to preempt as many as they could.

“I just love this place,” said Rhoten. “I want this to be much better. I want to leave it better than when I got it. I want it to be great. We’re doing well.”

St. Columban School Principal Mrs. Jo Rhoten with students during celebration of her 40th year at St. Columban School (Chuck Gibson File)

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