With Ohio school districts closed by Gov. Mike DeWine until April 3 – and likely longer – to help stem the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, leaders of the Delaware and Big Walnut school districts and the Delaware Area Career Center are working to keep their students educated, well-fed and informed.

The closure, which began March 16, essentially would be a two-week shutdown for the districts if it is lifted April 3 as scheduled, as each district’s spring break falls within the affected time frame.

Big Walnut Local Schools’ spring break is March 23-27; Delaware City Schools and the career center each set their breaks from March 30 to April 3.

Each district also has planned in-home instruction for students, and Big Walnut and Delaware have begun providing meals that can be picked up at schools.

While the meals are available to anyone, the move is an effort to continue the free and reduced-price lunch program for economically disadvantaged students, leaders said.

Officials at both Delaware and Big Walnut schools as well as the career center emphasized the health and safety of students and the public are the priorities.

“I would strongly urge you to keep your children home as much as possible,” Big Walnut Superintendent Angie Hamberg wrote in a Facebook post to parents. “Believe me, after one Saturday of being home with sports (canceled), I know personally how rough that is, but hopefully, by doing so we can help slow the spread of the virus and not overtax our health care system.”

“Our overall concern is the health and safety of our students,” said Alicia Mowry, DACC public information officer.

Lunch to go

Delaware schools are following all guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said public information officer Jennifer Ruhe.

Ruhe, along with Superintendent Heidi Kegley and Siobhan Johnson of the Hayes High School staff, made sure to stay at least 6 feet away from each other while distributing meal kits March 17 at the Willis Education Center.

Delaware schools began distributing lunch and breakfast meal kits March 17, available from 11 a.m. to noon weekdays at each elementary school and at Willis, Ruhe said.

Backpack food bags also will be delivered with Friday meals, she said, and meals will be brought to families who stop their vehicles at the curb.

Extended spring-break food bags will be available at the distribution sites Friday, March 27, Ruhe said.

The district also will distribute food to outlying neighborhoods with school bus drops. The schedule and locations are posted at dcs.k12.oh.us/page/5772.

Big Walnut provided breakfast and lunch kits last week at the high school and Souders Elementary School, and will resume meal distribution from 4 to 6 p.m. March 30, Hamberg said.

In a message to parents, Hamberg said meals can be requested by emailing Linda Klamfoth of the district’s food service department at lindaklamfoth@bwls.net or by calling 740-965-8958.

Big Walnut school nurse Megan Truax said Big Walnut Bridges – a group that formed recently to meet local needs – also is providing meal kits.

The organization can be reached via the “Big Walnut Bridges” Facebook page.

Distance learning

All school buildings are essentially closed and empty, except for custodial staff and some administrative staff, district representatives said.

All extracurricular activities also are suspended.

Ruhe said Delaware schools will have flexible, at-home learning days for students.

“We are pleased that several providers are offering free Internet services to homes for a period of time,” she said, “but we are also making arrangements directly with families who lack the resources to complete online work.”

Big Walnut’s remote learning will begin March 30, Hamberg said.

“We could have just copied a bunch of worksheets and sent them home, but we are hoping to provide work that is as meaningful as possible in this situation,” she said.

Hamberg said the delay offered by the district’s spring break is giving leaders time to connect with every family without Internet access or a computer.

“Our building secretaries are calling each family without access and helping them sign up for free Spectrum, if available in their area,” she said. “If Spectrum is not available, we are working to get them hot spots to use. We are partnering with the (Sunbury) Community Library in this effort.”

All Big Walnut students in grades 5-12 are provided Chromebooks, she said, and the district is loaning out devices for younger students as needed.

“Taking the extra week to make sure we have this infrastructure in place will make for a smoother experience for the long haul,” Hamberg said.

DACC began holding classes remotely March 17 and will continue until March 27, when its spring break starts, Mowry said.

“Our teachers are comfortable supporting our students through remote learning and are equipped to continue doing so,” she said. “We are working with our families to ensure that every student has the equipment, Internet access and the support they will need to successfully participate in our online education platform.” 

Test questions

District leaders also are looking ahead to state-mandated standardized tests, held near the end of the school year.

Ruhe, Hamberg and Mowry all said some level of accommodation will be required from the Ohio Department of Education.

“The governor and the Ohio Department of Education have stated there will be flexibility in place and will be waiving some existing requirements,” Mowry said.

She said when the department provides guidance, DACC should be able to provide more information to students and parents.

“I am confident that our policymakers understand the impact this is having on students and that they will work together during this national crisis to ensure students have the opportunity to earn their diploma,” Mowry said.