Hilliard City Schools leaders were focused on adapting both academically and operationally in the aftermath of at least a three-week closure of schools ordered by Gov. Mike DeWine on March 12 to begin at the end of the day March 16 – an order DeWine has signaled could be extended beyond April 3.

The sudden closure was in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has brought sweeping action statewide in an effort to contain the spread of the disease.

The first actions on the district’s plate were a transition to digital learning, which the district refers to as “eLearning.”

The district’s scheduled spring break is Monday, March 23, to Friday, March 27.

Staff members were at their buildings March 16 and 17, but their presence at the buildings is optional afterward, said Stacie Raterman, the district’s director of communications.

On March 18, staff members could choose to work from home or go to their buildings as long as appropriate “social distancing” was practiced, she said.

Students were engaging in digital learning from March 18 to 20, and they were expected to resume March 30, after spring break, Raterman said.

“Attendance will be taken each day, (and) the classroom teacher will be interacting (with students) on a daily basis through Canvas,” a learning-management system used by the district, she said.

Superintendent John Marschhausen said the district is “exceptionally well-prepared” in this crisis, having laid the foundation for digital learning years ago.

“In a crisis, we come together to serve our students,” Marschhausen said. “The Hilliard City School District is exceptionally well-prepared for eLearning. Our work over the past five years, our implementation of Canvas, has us in a great place.

“It isn’t going to be comfortable and it will not be smooth, (but) I believe Hilliard’s educators are better prepared than many university and college professors for eLearning.”

March 18 to 20 was “a test run” for teachers and students, Marschhausen said.

“After that, we are in it for the long haul, and there is every indication (the closure) will go longer than the current order,” Marschhausen said during that first week of digital learning. “We are prepared to finish the year, if necessary, with eLearning.”

For students without wireless internet at their residences, the district had responded by pushing Wi-Fi signals into the parking lots at school buildings to allow students to download assignments and upload completed activities, Raterman said.

The city of Hilliard also had opened public Wi-Fi and invited students to access its networks at public sites, which are listed at hilliardohio.gov.

The school district’s digital-learning sessions count toward days of education, and the district should not have to make up days at the end of the school year, Raterman said. However, that does not take into account if DeWine were to order Ohio’s public schools closed beyond April 3, she said.

Concerning standardized testing and how it is affected by the closure, Raterman said March 16 district leaders would not comment about tests until “after we get further direction from the state.”

Related to local standardized-testing schedules, representatives of the ACT standardized test used for college admissions announced March 16 that the national ACT test scheduled April 4 has been postponed to June 13 “in response to concerns regarding the spread of the coronavirus.”

Raterman said district leaders also declined to comment further on the repercussions to the district should DeWine order public schools to remain closed beyond April 3 or on the current impact to the district as a result of the statewide closure.

In terms of operations, district officials leaped into action on providing food to students during the first few days of the closure.

It started with grab-and-go lunches at school buildings, with transportation personnel to deliver lunches from 11 a.m. to noon to several locations around the district beginning March 18.

Buses rolled out of Hilliard's Bradley and Darby high schools shortly before 10 a.m. March 18 for the first day of meal deliveries to several apartment buildings.

Employees of Aramark Corp., the district’s food-service provider, prepared 566 lunches and breakfasts at Darby, where Deputy Superintendent Mike McDonough was on hand to help.

“We are committed to feeding the children of our district,” McDonough said.

He said nutrition is equally as important as the education that continues during the closure of school buildings, and the district is prepared to continue doing so if the closure were to extend beyond April 3.

The delivery March 18 included that day’s lunch and a breakfast for the following day, a pattern that was to continue each day, even during spring break, McDonough said.

After being prepared and packed by Aramark employees, the district’s transportation workers delivered the meals.

At Darby, bus drivers delivered 125 meals to Hilliard Village Apartments, 134 to Pine Crossing Apartments, 232 to Potts Place and 75 to Wilson Court, for a total of 566 meals.

“We’re happy to do it,” said bus driver Colleen Barta.

Two buses sat in the parking lot of the commercial strip center at the entrance to the Hilliard Village complex as parents, guardians and care providers approached with students.

Lunches also were available to be picked up by students at each of the district’s buildings, except the Innovation Campus, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each weekday.

Raterman said the district would continue to evaluate its procedures, including building locations and the transportation, during the first week of the closure. Leaders expected to keep families informed via hilliardschools.org/coronavirus, emails and social-media accounts, she said.