A state mandate to close public schools during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has not decreased the emphasis on learning for New Albany-Plain Local School District students, according to Superintendent Michael Sawyers.

“Our 5,000 students will need to learn differently, (and) teachers and staff will need to work differently, but the learning will continue,” he said.

A sudden three-week closure to help contain the spread of the coronavirus was ordered by Gov. Mike DeWine on March 12 to begin at the end of the day March 16 – and it is an order DeWine has signaled could be extended beyond April 3.

Sawyers said the “aggressive” approach by DeWine was “necessary and welcomed,” given the public-health crisis.

“We must do everything we can as a society to keep everyone safe,” he said March 17. “The worst is yet to come, and everyone has a responsibility to do their part to help one another.”

Sawyers said the district’s leadership team had developed tools and resources enabling instruction to continue remotely via online learning and with other resources communicated by teachers.

Specifically, district leaders developed learning hubs on each school building website, with links to various learning tools, he said. Teachers also were directed to communicate via email, he said.

Sawyers said the district issued devices to families that might not have access to them for online learning. When necessary, the district also provided resources to students unable to access the internet at home, he said.

Regarding standardized tests, district leaders were awaiting direction from the Ohio Department of Education, Sawyers said.

“It is possible given the situation that the department will seek a waiver from testing this year from the U.S. Department of Education,” he said.

Sawyers said he did not know whether students would need to make up school days. The district took the first of its five calamity days March 16 and began remote instruction March 19, he said.

“The number of days our students attend school exceeds the minimum number of hours required for state law,” he said.

The vast majority of district employees were assigned to work from home until further notice, Sawyers said. A few employees were designated as essential, such as those who daily check the buildings’ mechanical systems.

If any meals are needed, district spokesman Patrick Gallaway said, leaders have directed families to the New Albany Food Pantry, and they have provided any cafeteria food that could be transported safely to the pantry.

The quick actions of Sawyers, the district’s leadership team and staff members to make remote learning available to students was impressive, said New Albany school board President John McClelland.

“They have gone the extra mile to make sure that all students will have access to either technology or materials to support this effort,” he said.

Although the situation is challenging, community members need to support each other, McClelland said.

“We hope that it is short-lived, rather than long, but I am also confident that our administration, staff and students can do this,” he said.