Districts scramble as governor orders schools closed 3 weeks
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday ordered Ohio schools closed for three weeks beginning at the end of the day Monday to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. A look at the decision:
The order takes effect at the close of the day Monday and runs through Friday, April 3. DeWine said the decision will be evaluated as time passes, including whether to extend it. Despite the announcement, some districts, including Cleveland and Columbus, announced they’re shutting down beginning Monday.
The order applies to all K-12 schools, public and private, but not preschools or daycares. It doesn’t cover extracurricular events like sporting events or performances. DeWine said those would be up to districts, although those might be covered by an order also issued Thursday prohibiting gatherings of over 100 people.
One in four Ohio school children is eligible to receive lunch for free or reduced costs, or more than 700,000 children, and often eat breakfast and lunch at school, raising concerns about what they’ll do for meals during the closure. DeWine and state Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said the state is examining what federal rules could be waived to allow distribution of food outside schools. Acton also said there’s a role for charities to play as they already do when schools are off. The Ohio Association of Foodbanks also said it’s ready to help. In Cleveland, organizers are finalizing plans to continue providing breakfast and lunch for city students by designating pick-up locations for bagged meals or using school buses to deliver food.
DeWine said he’s aware the closure could affect districts’ preparation for state-mandated tests, but that’s also something that may have to be examined because of the nature of the crisis. “If we can’t have testing this year, we can’t have testing this year. The world will not come to an end if we don’t have testing,” the governor said.
Akron Public Schools Superintendent David W. James said his district has been planning for two weeks for the possibility of a school closure and is finalizing plans to enable students to do lessons at home. “We feel this decision puts minds at ease and reduces the distractions to learning caused by this situation,” James said in a statement. In Cleveland, the city schools moved up parent-teacher conferences to Monday and is adapting the concept of “blizzard bags” of printed coursework it sends home to keep students engaged during weather closures, district CEO Eric Gordon said.
The state’s largest teacher’s union commended the decision in a statement Thursday. Ohio Education President Scott DiMauro said the organization “understands the sacrifice this is going to entail for all Ohioans but agrees this is the best action at this time.” OEA represents 122,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals in Ohio’s public schools, colleges and universities.
Jane Irwin, a mother of two grade-schoolers in Upper Arlington in suburban Columbus said her two boys found out on the bus ride home Thursday that schools would be out an extra two weeks after their spring break. They came bounding in the door, saying excitedly “its like a mini-summer.” She told them “not exactly” but also said it’s the right decision.
“Italy is an example of what can happen if you don’t get it under control,” Irwin said.
For Isabel Nester, the news came as she and her classmates at the all-girls Notre Dame Academy in Toledo returned from a pep rally for their basketball team, whose trip to the state Final Four also fell victim to concerns about the virus because the tournament was postponed. Nester, 16, figures that finishing reading a novel and writing essays for English class would be doable on her own, and said her teacher hopes to use Google Hangouts to continue class discussions. Nester said she anticipated more textbook-focused work for math and biology, and wasn’t sure what might happen with her advanced Spanish class, which focuses a lot on conversation. Being away from classmates will be tough, she added.
“I think we’re going to get a little stir-crazy at home,” Nester said.
Associated Press writers Kantele Franko, Julie Carr Smyth and Mitch Stacy in Columbus, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and John Seewer in Toledo contributed to AP’s Ohio coronavirus coverage.