No matter how long face-to-face instruction is suspended in classrooms at a result of the coronavirus, Gahanna-Jefferson Public School leaders say they’re committed to providing meaningful learning opportunities for students and providing a successful end to the school year.
Following Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s mandate that all school districts in Ohio close schools for a period of three weeks to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Gahanna’s schools closed March 16 with classes tentatively scheduled to resume April 6. Some officials said it may be necessary to extend the closure through the end of the school year.
“The last several days have undoubtedly been a test of our resiliency,” said Steve Barrett, district superintendent. “This unprecedented situation has required all of us to be patient, flexible and responsive to the ever-changing information we receive daily.
“Our teachers and administrators have done an amazing job transitioning to a virtual learning space for our students in a very short time. Though things will look different for us over the next few weeks, we will be diligent in working to provide meaningful learning opportunities for our students.”
Barrett said distance learning for all district students began March 18.
“Teachers are communicating with parents and students about what to expect over the next few weeks,” he said. “Teachers will be sharing information in an ongoing manner about learning opportunities and expectations through a variety of platforms. We encourage parents and students to stay connected with teachers throughout this distance learning period.”
During this time away from the traditional classroom, Barrett said, the goal is to keep the learning moving forward as much as possible.
“We do not expect distance learning to replace the rich experiences that happen in our classrooms every day, but our hope is to keep our students engaged in the learning process until we can meet again in person,” he said.
If internet access isn’t available for students at home, the district’s technology department will work to find a solution so students can participate in distance-learning opportunities, Barrett said.
Parents should contact their student’s teacher or building principal if they need assistance with accessing content.
Teachers and staff are assigned to work from home unless or until directed by their supervisor, Barrett said.
“We do have particular groups of employees coming in to check on our facilities and to perform other operational tasks, but we are committed to the safety and health of all staff and are practicing social distancing and following preventative recommendations from the governor,” he said.
Jill Elliott, the district’s assistant superintendent, said the district doesn’t have a full understanding of how this closure of schools will affect state testing.
“We do know the tests we were in the process of administering have been suspended and the spring test windows will be delayed,” she said. “We are not clear on whether districts will still be required to complete spring assessments.”
Elliott said the district would continue to monitor information from the Ohio Department of Education and adjust according to its guidance.
In preparation for the closure, the teachers and staff have worked hard to adjust their plans in a manner that allows learning opportunities to continue for students at home, she said.
If the closure is extended, Elliott said, the district would work as a team to reflect on its plan and make adjustments to ensure students’ needs are met and everyone has a successful end to the school year.
She said current guidance from the Ohio Department of Education indicates the distance-learning plan doesn’t require the district to add days to the academic calendar.
“We are waiting to learn more about possible updates to requirements such as testing, attendance and required hours,” Elliott said.
Distance learning days aren’t considered calamity days because school is still in session, she said.
Gahanna students will be on spring break March 23 to March 27 and return to distance learning on March 30.
Grab and go
In addition to providing online learning, the district will provide “grab and go” lunches at five Gahanna school locations for students in prekindergarten through 12th grade who are in need.
“We understand how impactful closing schools can be for our students and families, and we are committed to continuing to support our students in every way we can,” the district said in a March 15 letter to families.
“As our amazing teachers work hard to provide learning opportunities for students over the next few weeks, we also want to be sure our students have the food they need through our school closing lunch program,” the letter said.
The meals will be provided through April 3, including the week of spring break.
Daily meals will include lunch for that day and a breakfast item for the next day, according to a letter provided by Judy Hengstebeck, the district’s communications coordinator.
Lunch pick-up will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the following days: Monday, March 23, with five days of meals provided; and Monday, March 30, five days of meals provided.
Pick-up will be held at the following locations: Goshen Lane Elementary School, 370 Goshen Lane; Royal Manor Elementary School, 299 Empire Drive; Middle School East, 730 Clotts Road; Middle School West, 350 Stygler Road; and Lincoln High School, 140 S. Hamilton Road.
Families are asked to fill out a free-lunch request form to help the district plan accordingly. The form can be found at gahannaschools.org by clicking on “Grab and Go Lunch Information.”
Barrett said the district supports the governor’s approach.
“We’re committed to doing our part to minimize the risk and slow the spread of the coronavirus,” he said. “We are dealing with a situation that is unprecedented, and we will support and follow all mandates that protect the health and safety of our students, staff and the Gahanna-Jefferson community.”