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From The Print Last Week

The halls of Mills Lawn elementary school stood empty at noon Monday, March 16, as the local school district enacted Gov. Mike DeWine’s order closing all kindergarten through 12th grade schools for at least three weeks. (Photo by Carol Simmons)

Schools adjust to closure

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Local educators were forced to move quickly this past week after Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the closing of all Ohio kindergarten through 12th-grade schools for an early — and extended — spring break as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

DeWine announced a three-week shutdown Thursday afternoon, March 12, with the closure to begin at the end of the school day Monday, March 16, and students set to return to class Monday, April 6.

However, during his daily press briefing Tuesday afternoon, March 17, he said he anticipates the closure to continue longer than the initial three weeks.

“The odds are very heavy that this period will [go on] for an extended period of time,” DeWine said.

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Appearing on a CNN cable news program earlier in the week, the governor said he would not be surprised “if the schools did not reopen this year.”

In a phone interview this week, Yellow Springs Schools Superintendent Terri Holden said the district’s immediate concern was starting the closure on solid footing for students and families — meeting not only educational, but also wellness, needs —  while administrators also began looking ahead at long-term implications of a possible continuing shutdown.

After DeWine’s closure announcement, the district opted to make Friday, March 13, the last day of regular classes, and set Monday as a day for families to pick up student work and talk to teachers if needed. The Antioch School closed its campus at the end of the school day Friday as well.

“This is unchartered territory,” Mills Lawn counselor John Gudgel said mid-morning Monday, as a small but steady stream of adults, many with a child in tow, checked in with staff at the public elementary school. The halls were empty, however, by noon.

Providing educational services

Superintendent Holden said the first order for teachers was figuring out ways to sustain students’ educational progress, without putting the onus of new instruction on families.

The district has set up two new online pages on its website (www.ysschools.org), one dedicated to information about the COVID-19 virus, also known as the novel coronavirus, and one dedicated to “non-traditional instruction.”

The first includes all recent virus-related communications to families from the superintendent, as well as links to informational websites — national, state and local — that go into more detail about the virus and best practices for staying healthy.

The “non-traditional instruction” page features links to homework assignments and lesson support from individual teachers, as well as contact information for every instructor.

“They’ve been working really hard,” Holden said of the teachers’ efforts to provide a framework of study for students while they are home.

The page also includes a growing list of educational resource links, ranging from museum virtual tours, to Scholastic magazine’s “learn at home” website, to family activities.

Holden said that students without the necessary technology or internet connection to assess class materials should contact the district offices, at 937-767-7381. Paper versions of the teachers’ notes are available on request, and many teachers, especially in the lower grades, can provide paper packets of instructional materials. Arrangements also can be made to borrow devices, if needed. All middle and high school students already have a Chromebook provided by the district at the beginning of the school year, Holden noted.

For families without internet access, the Stamford, Conn.-based Charter Communications company, which owns Spectrum cable, is offering 60 days of free Spectrum broadband and wi-fi service for students who don’t already have it, according to a March 13 press release from Charter. The release lists 1-844-488-8395 as the number to call to sign up. It also says that installation fees will be waived for new households.

Superintendent Holden noted, however, that Charter Communications is a business, and its offer is not through the schools.

Antioch School teachers also are working on ways to keep students engaged and connected, exploring online meeting platforms and exchanging work and information through email, letters and drop boxes outside the school building.

Nutritional needs

In addition to meeting educational needs, the local school district also wants to make certain all students have enough to eat.

Holden said that about a quarter of the district’s enrollment — 196 students, representing 116 families — currently qualify for free or reduced breakfasts and lunches. With schools closed, their  access to adequate nutrition is compromised.

To help meet that need, the district and its food service provider, The Nutrition Group, will continue to distribute breakfast and lunch, on a modified schedule, through the three-week shutdown. Holden said that federal food program rules require the school to check off qualifying students, but any student who comes for food will be served.

“Our goal is to feed hungry children,” Holden said.

The district will hold two distributions a week, Wednesday and Friday this week and Tuesday and Friday the following two weeks, from 9–11 a.m., at the middle/high school. Holden said the district anticipates continuing to distribute food if the shutdown is extended, but plans have not yet been finalized.

Each distribution these three weeks will include enough food for 2–3 days for each student, and delivery will be available for those unable to pick-up.

According to a letter from Holden to district families, a typical breakfast will be cereal, breakfast bars or yogurt with granola, juice and milk. A typical lunch will include a sandwich on whole grain bread — such as peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, turkey and cheese, hummus and vegetables — a fruit, a vegetable and milk.

Holden also wrote that the Nutrition Group will put the food bags together in the school kitchen and “will follow all sanitary and health guidelines.”

The bags will be handed out by volunteers at tables set outside the kitchen door. Holden stressed that volunteers who assist with food pickup or delivery will take recommended precautions for the COVID-19 virus. Parent Melissa Heston is coordinating the local food supply efforts, high school intervention specialist Donna Haller is coordinating on-site volunteers and Holden is overseeing deliveries.

Holden said she expects that the need will increase over time as more families are affected by business closings and related unemployment.

Other challenges

Even if the governor were to reopen schools after the initial three-week closure, the shutdown has caused havoc with school schedules and plans.

The high school trip to Rome and Athens, originally scheduled during spring break, is being replanned, possibly in late summer, while the annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., is being rescheduled for Memorial Day weekend in May, if schools reopen by then.

The spring sports season will be delayed by at least a week, instrumental music performances have been canceled and show dates for the middle/high school spring production of “The Fair Maid of the West” have been moved to April 23–26.

If the shutdown continues indefinitely, all activities are threatened, as are testing dates for ACT, SAT and AP exams, which are vital for students applying to college.

“There are a lot of implications,” Holden said of the ripple effects of the shutdown.

Possible changes at the YSCCC

Officials also anticipate that the widespread closures will soon include day care centers and home-based childcare providers, which have thus far been allowed to stay open.

Malissa Doster, executive director of Yellow Springs Community Children’s Center, said the center had about 30 children in attendance Monday and Tuesday this week. Normal enrollment is about 85.

She said staff members are taking all recommended safeguards and are also conducting wellness checks of children at the door. The checks led to one child being sent back home Tuesday morning, she added.

Doster said that while some families are already keeping their children home, others have been told that they will likely need to find alternative care arrangements soon.

She said the center will stay open as long as it can, but “that may change tomorrow.”

Contact: csimmons@ysnews.com

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