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 new coronavirus, COVID-19. The Ohio High School Athletic Association postponed all remaining winter sports tournaments after taking steps to limit spectators earlier in the week. And Urbana University announced it has closed its residence halls and canceled spring athletics.
DeWine’s school closing 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, such as Columbus, announced they’re shutting down beginning Monday.
Graham Local Schools already had a scheduled day off today – what would have been the first day of the state wrestling tournament. Monday still is a scheduled school day for Graham, according to its calendar.
DeWine’s 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.
Schools often send students to competitions involving other schools, such as science fairs and FFA competitions. For example, Graham Local Schools officials already had opted not to participate in the Upper Miami Valley District Science Fair at Edison State Community College on Saturday, March 14.
Champaign County’s five public school superintendents are keeping in touch with families concerning steps taken to keep COVID-19 at bay. The superintendents noted that guidelines from the governor and the Ohio Department of Health are changing as more is learned about this particular coronavirus.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced Thursday at 2:15 p.m. it would postpone all remaining regional and state winter sports tournaments, including state wrestling, due to COVID-19 concerns. (See more about this on today’s sports page.)
School districts have cancelled, postponed or rescheduled several non-athletic events scheduled this month and are considering the status of other events.
Schools also are discussing how to continue teaching students if buildings remain closed. Mechanicsburg officials informed parents the district will offer “distance learning” for all students in grades 5-12 with “district devices” and will offer students in grades K-4 a blend of learning menus and online options.
West Liberty-Salem announced plans to have teachers prepare instructional materials to send home with students today, prior to the extended break. Students won’t attend class on Monday, but teachers and staff will conduct a work day.
Triad announced it will unveil plans for the extended break by this afternoon.
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.
The state’s largest teachers’ union commended the decision in a statement on 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.
Visit local school district websites for updates concerning school news.
Superintendents ask that anyone feeling ill not attend school or school functions and that anyone believing they have been exposed to COVID-19 contact the Champaign Health District at 937-484-1605 or the Ohio Department of Health at 833-427-5634.
Filling the social void
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.
Urbana University goes virtual in crisis
Urbana University announced Thursday evening it will close residence halls on campus and cancel spring athletics.
“Effective Thursday, March 12, Urbana University, a branch campus of Franklin University will close its residence halls and continue the term online for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year,” according to a press release from Urbana University. “In addition, all campus-sponsored athletic events and practices are cancelled for the remainder of the term. Employees should continue to report to work, as policies are being developed to help guide alternative work arrangements.”
While no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the university, the decision to close residence halls is being made to help mitigate the risk and spread of the virus. This decision was made following the guidance of state government officials and health experts to discourage the assembly of large groups of people.
These actions supplement the March 10 decision to move all face-to-face courses to online delivery beginning March 16. This approach helps protect students without disruption to their academic progress, according to university officials.
Although Urbana University is currently on spring break, officials are making accommodations for those students who are currently on campus or those who will be unable to return home due to distance, federally-imposed travel restrictions, or special circumstances.
“The decision to close residence halls was not taken lightly,” said Dr. David Decker, president, Franklin University. “Local, state and federal travel regulations and health guidelines are changing at a rapid rate, and we want to be as responsive as possible while acting in the best interest of our students.”
Further precautionary measures will be implemented to help those students remaining on campus, as well as campus employees, including health screening and virtual meeting opportunities.
Campus officials said they will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates as new information or policies are developed.
Ohio statistics as of Thursday at 2 p.m. showed 5 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 52 persons under investigation/tested with lab results pending, 30 persons who have tested negative and 333 under supervision (travelers who have completed self-monitoring and are not exhibiting symptoms). The website coronavirus.ohio.gov is updated daily at 2 p.m.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost also urged people not to resort to panic shopping in grocery stores.
“Look folks, you don’t need four cases of toilet paper,” he said.
Visit the Ohio Department of Health website for updates on COVID-19.