The 3,400 students in Whitehall City Schools will continue to use their homes as classrooms until at least May 1 after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s March 30 order to extend a three-week closure of districts statewide – originally set to end April 3 – in a continuing effort to control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
DeWine had signaled that the three-week closure likely would be extended, and Ty Debevoise, director of marketing and communications for Whitehall schools, said district leaders were not caught off guard.
“As the first order was nearing an end, an announcement of an extension was not surprising,” he said. “We just didn’t know what date would be put on it.”
The answer was May 1, and the district will continue to feed and educate students in the same fashion it has been since students last saw their classrooms March 13, district officials said.
Remote learning will continue in the same manner it has been, Superintendent Brian Hamler said.
“Our alternative distance-learning instruction is fully in place and will continue throughout this extension of the building closure,” he said.
“While this alternative plan could never fully replace the value of face-to-face instruction in the classroom, we feel it is a solid plan that seems to be working very well for our community.”
Chris Hardy, director of accountability and instruction for Whitehall schools, said the district provides content and assignments to students online.
“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,” he said.
The district’s expectation of student instructional time for grades 9 to 12 is 120 minutes a day; for grades K-8, it is 100 minutes a day, Hardy said.
But not all families have internet service at home, so the district is working toward options for such households.
“We are currently trying to acquire hotspots to provide to families,” Debevoise said April 2. “As you can imagine, they are not easy to come by in the current situation, (but we are) working feverishly (to do so).”
The district also is working to ensure that students who have an individualized education program or a Section 504 plan are not affected.
“We are following all federal and state guidance for students with disabilities by offering both core instruction and intervention through online content and supplemental materials, just as are for all students,” said Anna Telerski Shultz, director of special education.
“Our therapists and intervention specialists are providing accommodations, modifications and individual or small-group lessons through not only Google classroom lessons but through phone and video conferencing,” Shultz said.
In addition to continuing to educate students, the district created a policy to continue feeding them, as well.
Lunch and the next day’s breakfast have been available for pickup between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekdays at Whitehall-Yearling High School, 675 S. Yearling Road, and Kae Avenue Elementary School, 4750 Kae Ave.
“The extended closure should not negatively affect our ability to provide these meals moving forward,” Debevoise said.
Looking toward the future, Debevoise said, it is too soon to say how the district will address the scheduling of events, such as graduation, currently set May 30, and Whitehall-Yearling’s prom.
“Nothing has been decided, but discussions of those scenarios are happening,” he said.