Before the COVID-19 coronavirus was declared a global health crisis, Columbus City Schools leaders were prepared, said Kate King, the district's director of health, family and community services

King said a plan was in place before Gov. Mike DeWine issued an executive order March 12 to close all public schools for at least three weeks.

School was dismissed at the end of the day March 13. Since then, the roughly 50,000 students and more than 7,100 staff members -- with the exception of essential personnel -- have been off-premises and are not required to return until further notice, King said.

"We've been preparing for this before that," King said of the governor's order. "We have a pandemic plan, and all pandemic plans are rather conceptual in nature because each is different because of the organism or the disease."

That has resulted in continual updates on a newly created website -- StaySafeCCS.org -- and in keeping up with offering breakfast and lunch to all students in the district.

Students 18 years old and younger may get free grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches Mondays through Fridays at select buildings. The 14 locations are listed at ccsoh.us/Page/7560.

On March 18, the Central Ohio Transit Authority said it would provide free transportation for any child to and from any of the district's food sites on bus routes at least through April 3, according to the district's website. Children who need transportation to a meal site should tell the COTA operator they need a ride to the meal-distribution location, and they will not be charged, the website said.

Still, the pandemic plan doesn't cover all contingencies, King said.

The district is in a wait-and-see mode with state and federal officials when it comes to interruptions in standardized testing, basic education requirements for remote learning and makeup days, King said.

"That can be frustrating and a little scary for students and families, but we do have many plans and ideas and will move forward when we get more information," she said.

Just in case the schools closure is extended, the district's academic services team is working on a long-term plan, said Scott Wortman, the district's chief of communications.

"We have been and will continue to work in collaboration with (the Columbus Education Association teachers union) leadership to define what the expectations would be for our teaching staff during a long-term school closure," Wortman said.

One of the challenges is to provide temporary computers for the number of students who don't have them, Wortman said.

"We know that reliable access to the internet and to computers is not equitable throughout the district," he said. "We are working on creative solutions so that we can provide educational opportunities for all of our families no matter their situation."

Some cable-television and internet-service providers are offering free internet service for 60 days to students who do not have it.

King credits DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, for their aggressive approach to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

"I think Ohio is far ahead of many other states," King said. "I think that the governor and Dr. Amy Acton have been very forward-thinking, especially when it comes to schools."

King, a registered nurse, said barring extreme conditions that require immediate medical attention, anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms should consult his or her primary-care provider for advice.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary