Like all school districts in the state, Whitehall City Schools will remain closed through at least April 3 after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s March 12 order.
But since then, DeWine has signaled that the three-week closure might not be sufficient to control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, even suggesting that students may not return to buildings this school year.
Ty Debevoise, director of marketing and communications for Whitehall schools, said March 17 the district didn’t yet have a plan for that contingency, but “will make the best of the situation.”
Debevoise said he expects further direction from the state if schools were to be shuttered until the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Whitehall City Schools is focused on adapting, both academically and operationally, to the three-week closure underway.
Neither teachers nor administrators are at any of the district’s five buildings, Debevoise said.
“Teachers are planning at home,” he said.
As policy and procedure can rapidly change, Superintendent Brian Hamler said the district is doing all it can to inform students and parents as soon as possible.
“Communication is going to be extremely important and we are directing our families to go to our webpage for up-to-date and trusted information,” Hamler said.
That website is wcsrams.org.
Chris Hardy, director of accountability and instruction for Whitehall schools, said the district began to offer content and assignments to students online March 18.
In a letter sent to Whitehall school district families March 13, students in grades 2-12 were asked to practice logging into their online environment to ensure each student is able to access digital learning resources.
“Students in K-1 will have a variety of lessons they will bring home with them,” Hardy said.
Staff spent March 16 and 17 preparing online and alternative lessons for students, Hardy said.
“The goal of our alternative and remote-learning plan is to provide learning opportunities for each grade level and course and to keep learning moving forward.”
The district’s expectation of student instructional time for grades 9-12 is 120 minutes a day; for grades K-8, it is 100 minutes a day, Hardy said.
It remains unclear, Debevoise said, how the closure will affect the administration of local standardized tests.
Debevoise said the district is aware that some students lack access to the Internet at home. With many venues that typically provide Wi-Fi, such as libraries, shut down, the district is advising families of third-party providers offering services for free or at deeply discounted fees.
Continuing to provide meals to students was another hurdle the district is working to meet.
On March 17, the district began providing school lunches to students at Whitehall-Yearling High School, 675 S. Yearling Road.
Students attending any school can pick up sack lunches outside the high school from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays during the closure, Debevoise said.
The lunches being distributed are through the school’s existing lunch program, said David Hausmann, director of operations for the district.
A lunch location was expected to be added March 23 at Kae Avenue Elementary School.
In addition, students will be given a bagged breakfast to eat the following morning, Debevoise said.
While many school districts had a one-week spring break already scheduled during the shutdown period, Whitehall’s spring break is not until April 13-17, and it remains to be seen whether students will be off that week, Debevoise said.
Despite the hardships, Debevoise said the district has no reservations about DeWine’s actions and orders.
“We are a team player and agree with what the governor says needs done to flatten the curve,” said Debevoise, using the term applied to controlling the expected rise in the number of coronavirus infections in the ensuing weeks.
School board president Mike Adkins said the district is taking the right steps.
“This is a scary situation and whatever we can do to help is what we’re going to do for the safety of our staff and children,” he said.
“There is no overreacting on something like this, but as a district, we are doing whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of our children and staff,” Adkins said.
“I think everyone is making the best of a strange situation,” Debevoise said.
“The impact has been more than can be imagined, but I have been truly encouraged by the patience of our (school) community in the face of so many unknowns.”