As Whitehall students prepare to wrap up the school year at home rather than in the classroom, district leaders say teachers and students have adapted to the process despite some hurdles.

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

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

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

Whitehall City Schools Superintendent Brian Hamler said his district accepts the necessity of the decision, which DeWine had signaled was likely March 30, when he ordered schools closed through May 1. He first ordered a three-week closure through April 3 before extending the closure to May 1.

But Hamler was clear that distance learning will never be equal to what goes on in the classroom.

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

Whitehall has 3,400 students enrolled at Whitehall-Yearling High School, Rosemore Middle School, three elementary schools and a preschool, said Ty Debevoise, director of marketing and communications for Whitehall schools.

“Connecting with some students has been a challenge as some are without devices or (Internet) connectivity in the home.”

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

Still, the district’s students and teachers have adapted remarkably well, Hamler said, and will use that experience moving forward as Whitehall’s academic year in classrooms ends.

“By this point, I think our teachers are comfortable with the online tools available to them and have done a remarkable job," Hamler said. "They have been asked to create online lessons … in a very short period of time."

That experience may become important later this year, as it remains unknown what school will look like in August.

“We understand that this may be the new normal for some time -- maybe well into (the) next (academic) year," Hamler said.

“We are currently assessing how this alternative learning is going and planning for a world in which remote learning may be our future until it is safe to come together again,” he said.

DeWine said April 20 no decision has been made about students returning to school in the fall, but 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.

Now that the closure extends to the end of the academic year, the district will need to determine what to do about Whitehall-Yearling’s commencement, scheduled May 30.

“Nothing is concrete at the moment. We are looking into future dates,” Debevoise said April 20.

Debevoise said April 21 that acting principal Crystal Johnson is organizing a meeting "in the next few days" to discuss how to handle commencement.