Ohio students will not return to their school buildings this academic year because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Mike DeWine said during his daily press conference Monday, April 20.

“We have to think about the risk to teachers, students and our communities," he said.

For the remainder of this school year, our young people will continue to go to school remotely.#InThisTogetherOhiopic.twitter.com/xgsuvobVPs

— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine)April 20, 2020

Meanwhile, students will continue to learn remotely as the pandemic continues, DeWine said.

"Why are we keeping schools closed? We've flattened the curve, but the virus remains," the governor's Twitter account said. "Also, to go back to school now with a relatively small amount of time left – many educators have expressed to me that this wouldn't be a good idea even if the health situation was resolved."

However, no decision has been made about the next school year, DeWine said, though he did allow for a potential "blended system" of learning.

"There is the possibility that we will have a blended system this fall – some distance learning as well as some in-person learning," the governor's Twitter account said. "That's just a possibility and each school district is different."

School buildings have been closed since the middle of March because of the pandemic.

Hilliard City Schools Superintendent John Marschhausen said his district “will continue our efforts and thank our teachers, parents and students for the exceptional work” done thus far.

Hilliard has 16,800 students, and more than 1,200 will graduate next month, according to Stacie Raterman, director of communications for Hilliard schools.

Graduation ceremonies for Bradley, Darby and Davidson high schools, previously scheduled May 20 to 22 at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the Ohio State University campus, will remain virtual, Marschhausen said, but “with the commitment that when it is safe to do so, we will work with your class leaders to plan an appropriate celebration.”

Whitehall City Schools Superintendent Brian Hamler said his district accepts the necessity for the decision, but remote learning never would be equal to classroom instruction.

“Remote learning can’t replace the quality instruction that happens in a building under normal circumstances,” Hamler said.

Whitehall has 3,400 students enrolled at Whitehall-Yearling High School, Rosemore Middle School, three elementary schools and a pre-chool, according to Ty Debevoise, director of marketing and communications for the district.

“Connecting with some students has been a challenge as some are without devices or (internet) connectivity in the home," he said.

On April 18 and 19, the district distributed 475 devices and provided 53 families with wireless hotspots to reach such students, Hamler said.

Grandview Heights Schools Superintendent Andy Culp said he was not surprised Ohio schools would continue to provide virtual learning through the rest of the current school year.

"I know I speak for the entire staff when I say that we are saddened to not be with our students for this amount of time and there has been a lot of emotion with the finality of this decision,' he said. "The emotion is an outcome of deep and genuine care by our staff for the students."

Culp said the Central Ohio Superintendent's Association has established a subcommittee that is taking the first look at creating "consistent and well-thought out" procedures, policies and protocol recommendations districts should take in advance of opening school in the fall.

"At this point, they have not finalized that document," he said. "Once they share their document it will still be in draft form and be shared more broadly with all Franklin County superintendents for additional updates and refinement.

"In the end, the final decisions will be locally made, but consistency among Franklin County school districts and superintendents is always helpful and useful."

Grandview Heights High School principal Rob Brown "continues to meet with staff and students virtually to discuss options for graduation," he said.

Brown will meet later this week with staff and students to continue the discussion, Culp said.

No decisions have been made, he said.

"The challenge is that there has not been guidance given for summer and gathering," Culp said. "Those final decisions will impact our ability to possibly do a graduation later in the summer. We are still in a holding pattern."

Greg Viebranz, Westerville City Schools' executive director for communications and technology, said his district's plans for the next school year would be part of "conversations over the coming weeks.

"We already had a team put together, prior to the governor's announcement on Monday, that will be discussing the 2020-21 school year," he said.

The first meeting was scheduled Thursday, April 23, he said.

"We anticipated that schools would be closed for the remainder of the school year, so more than anything, it's a relief to hear this officially from the governor," Viebranz said. "Now we, along with our families and staff, can plan accordingly. The foundation we've established over the past few weeks supports the extended closure through the rest of the academic year."

Westerville Superintendent John Kellogg also said district leaders were "not surprised by the governor's decision and are working internally, as well as with other school districts, regarding what the parameters might be for next school year." 

Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools Superintendent Steve Barrett said even though DeWine was clear April 20 that no decision has been made about the start of the 2020-21 school year, "we will certainly begin exploring all possibilities should that become our reality."

"We will reflect on our current distance-learning plan, the learning structures and platforms being used, and the feedback we receive from staff, students and parents, and we will follow the guidance provided by the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Education and Gov. DeWine to ensure we have a solid plan for welcoming our students to the new year," Barrett said. "Although we are very proud of how quickly our teachers and students adjusted to learning online, we know distance learning cannot replace the rich and robust learning that occurs in a traditional classroom.

"We also know that much of our success is dependent on students and teachers building strong face-to-face relationships, and the start of the school year is a particularly important time for this."

Bexley City Schools spokesman Tyler Trill said district leaders were "not surprised by the governor's announcement, and we've been preparing for this decision."

"Though we are disappointed we won't be able to return to school this academic year, we understand why the decision was made in regards to the public's health and safety," Trill said. "The Bexley school district will continue with our distance-learning plan this school year.

"We continue to evaluate our plans for graduation. The district will await further guidance on the 2020-21 school year before making any decisions."

Read more at dispatch.com.

ThisWeek reporters Kevin Corvo, Alan Froman and Marla K. Kuhlman contributed to this story.

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