The Canal Winchester and Groveport Madison school districts are using online technology to educate students during an unprecedented government-ordered closure of all Ohio schools in an effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Canal Winchester

Superintendent James Sotlar said the Canal Winchester district is in "uncharted territory" as it deals with ways to educate students while schools are closed.

At this point, Sotlar said schools will reopen no earlier than April 6.

"The health and well-being of our students, staff and families will always be our No. 1 priority," he said.

There are no plans to make up any coursework during the summer.

Keeping with Gov. Mike DeWine's request to continue education during this hiatus, the district will use alternative-learning materials that will be completed during the break.

Students in grades three through 12 have been assigned Chromebooks to use for their assignments. They will receive instruction via PowerSchool, Google Classroom or Canvas. Students in kindergarten through second grade were given paper assignments.

Teachers will use email to answer questions from students and parents between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays, although, Sotlar said, they may take 24 to 48 hours to respond.

Charter Communications is offering 60 days of free internet and Wi-Fi access through Spectrum broadband to households that do not have internet access but are home to K-12 or college students. Charter also will open Wi-Fi hotspots across its footprint for public use.

All activities in the district, including athletics practices, academic competitions and performing arts, are canceled until school resumes.

According to Sotlar, only essential personnel will report to district buildings. This includes food-service and transportation employees, custodians, maintenance workers and a small number of administrators.

While schools remain closed, free breakfasts and lunches will be made available to students 18 years old or younger on weekdays at select district schools and 24 other locations throughout the community. A schedule and list of locations may be found at canalwinchesterschools.org and following the "Food Distribution Dates & Locations" link at the top of the page.

Groveport Madison

Likewise, the Groveport Madison district is embracing online learning during the extended break.

Online instruction for students began March 18 using Google Classroom and Clever, software that facilitates the use of technology by providing a simple interface and easy access to data.

Superintendent Garilee Ogden said teachers will monitor assignment completion, student progress and online attendance daily while schools are closed.

In order to graduate, Groveport seniors must complete their online coursework, she said.

Teachers regularly will consult with guidance counselors to make sure students remain on track.

To ensure the quality of student learning in what she called a "difficult time," Ogden said, district staff members have educated themselves on how to best approach the next several weeks.

On March 16, she and Joy Bock, Groveport Madison Education Association president, met with each teacher to review expectations for the shift to online learning.

On March 17, district Service Center staff and school administrators were trained in the use of GoogleMeet.

For students without internet access, the district has opened all Wi-Fi access in the schools, meaning nearby homes might be able to access these networks. Additionally, the district purchased a number of inexpensive mobile hotspots that students and parents without internet access can check out for use.

While the district will carry on via online service, Ogden was concerned about the social aspect of public education students will be missing.

"There are significant disruptions to the daily routines that are very important for the growth and development of school-age children," she said. "Schools are not only structures or buildings -- they're communities.

"In addition, while our students are using many of the same software applications from home that they use at school, they miss out on the interactions that help them develop social skills and an appreciation for people that are sometimes unlike themselves," Ogden said.

All Groveport schools and the Service Center were closed March 17. Employees will work from off-site office locations and will be available between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays via phone and email. Staff will continue to check emails as they regularly would, and district phones have been rerouted to the appropriate off-site locations, meaning phone contact is available.

All athletics and community events scheduled to take place at Groveport Madison schools have been canceled. Spring break for the district, which is scheduled from April 10 to 19, still will take place.

Because of the state-ordered closure of all schools, the March 25 school board meeting was canceled.

Groveport schools will offer free breakfast and lunch pickup to all students ages 18 or younger at several district buildings and from buses parked at preselected locations.

The list of sites and time schedule may be found at gocruisers.org.

Police assistance

Due to such unusual circumstances, the Groveport Police Department is offering home visits to stressed or frightened school-age children.

"We understand this is a very strange and stressful time," the department said in a statement issued to Groveport Madison families. "It is times like this that a community must stay together and look out for one another."

Parents or family members may call 614-830-2060 to request a safety check.

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