Every school in Ohio is in a bind after Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the closure of all schools from March 16 through April 3 to slow the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. He announced the mandatory closing in a press conference on March 12.

As of Tuesday, there are 67 patients in Ohio who tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Director of the Ohio Department of Health, Dr. Amy Acton. There are 26 females and 41 males and 17 people are hospitalized.

“This is an unprecedented time and it’s going to be transformative,” Superintendent Lynn Campbell of the Orange City School District said on Monday.

Superintendents say that school districts across Cuyahoga and Geauga counties have never seen this type of event before. For many districts, spring break happened to fall in one of those three weeks, which mitigated the impact on the district.

But schools were forced to confront problems like how to educate students from a distance, how to offer regular social services like counselors and how to provide lunch to students who rely on a free lunch at school rather than bringing one from home.

Early planning

After the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Cuyahoga County on March 9, local superintendents said that they began planning for how it would impact the district.

Orange and Solon schools already had a planned day off on Friday as a work session for teachers and administrations, where the coronavirus became the center of attention. Other districts had internal discussions about how to handle a closure prior to Gov. DeWine’s announcement.

Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools planned to meet to discuss several scenarios last Friday to address how to handle absences in the event schools remained open or how they would handle a statewide closure.

When the most severe scenario became reality with the school closures, Superintendent Robert Hunt said the district switched gears to make the quick decision to continue through online learning.

Berkshire Local School District Superintendent John Stoddard said that he was surprised by the closure and that the district took action quickly to adapt to the governor’s order.

“We didn’t know this was going to be thrown on us,” he said. “We, like all the other districts, are rolling with it to meet the needs of our students.”

Leading the way in uncharted waters

Every district has been in communication with the health authorities to protect their students, faculty and staff, including the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, Geauga Public Health, the Ohio Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Dr. Campbell, Orange is working through questions such as how to handle AP testing, how graduation requirements will apply and how to manage individualized education programs. He said that attorneys are circulating information on how to handle such issues that all districts in the state are facing at this time.

“There’s been a lot of effective communication,” he said.

Fred Bolden, acting superintendent of the Solon City School District, said that local superintendents have also consulted with the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, the Ohio School Boards Association and the Alliance for High Quality Education.

Academic approach

Overall, districts are relying on Google Classroom for their students to learn the classroom material while out of school. Google Classroom is a web service that streamlines the process of sharing files between teachers and students.

Solon is a 1-to-1 district, meaning that every student has a device, such as a laptop or Google Chromebook, to do their work, Mr. Bolden said. For grades five through 12, students will use Google Classroom. For kindergarteners through fourth-graders, the students will have activity packets.

“The way we think of it is we’re taking an incremental systemic response to the situation as it happens,” Mr. Bolden said.

Superintendent Michael Hanlon said that Chardon is also a 1-to-1 district that will use Google Classroom and Google Hangouts, in addition to open-access resources such as Screencastify, a tool for teacher instruction.

Superintendent Nancy Santilli of the Kenston Local Schools said that the district is using mostly Google Classroom and the students will use devices at home. Not all students have access to a device because Kenston is a 1-to-1 district for grades six through 12 but not kindergarten through fifth grade.

Dr. Santilli said that she is looking into a partnership with the Chagrin Falls Park Community Center. There will also be hard copies of assignments available for students, she said.

Chagrin Falls is a K-12 1-to-1 district. Dr. Hunt said students staggered in the district to take their Chromebooks and other materials home. Virtual learning was to start Wednesday and continue tomorrow (Friday). The district is on spring break for the week of March 23 and will continue with online learning the following Monday.

Dr. Stoddard said that Berkshire is also making a list of families who may need assistance with technology to complete the assignments. He said that some assignments will not be collected for a grade and students will be allowed to turn in work late.

Free and reduced lunch

One of the immediate problems that nearly every district faced was how to feed children who rely on free lunch at school. Students can apply for the federal program and are eligible on an income-based system.

Dr. Hunt said Chagrin has reached out to parents whose children qualify for the free and reduced lunch and that the district will provide weekly lunches and food boxes for those students.

Dr. Campbell said that about 15 percent of the students in the district are on the free and reduced price lunch program. The school cafeteria will remain open and social workers who work with the district through Beech Brook will deliver the meals on a school bus.

The bus will make three stops where children can pick up their food. The bus will stop at Beechmont Towers and Jillian Court Apartments in Woodmere and Country Lane in Warrensville Heights. Parts of Solon, Bedford Heights and Warrensville Heights attend the Orange schools.

Other services and next steps

In each district, the facilities remain open. Students and teachers are home, but some administrators and essential staff members remain. Director of Technology and Operations at West Geauga Local Schools Sean Whelan added that during the closure, the district’s buildings will go through a deep cleaning.

Other services that students receive at school, such as seeing a school counselor, are continued via phone calls and email, the superintendents said. Dr. Hanlon said that it is important for students to retain a sense of “normalcy” despite the pandemic. “Sometimes it’s just the connection to their teacher can be just as powerful as any lesson that a teacher provides to an online platform.”

Local superintendents said that they are adapting to the situation as it changes on a daily basis. Gov. DeWine has said that schools may be closed for longer than three weeks, so districts are also thinking about how this may affect the rest of the academic year. Despite the unknown circumstances regarding the coronavirus, the superintendents said that their districts have shown support and worked together.

“I’m really grateful for the Kenston community,” Dr. Santilli said. “In any kind of need, they pull together and care for the students.”

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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