CLEVELAND, Ohio — Just days into the academic year, some Ohio schools have already transitioned to remote learning or canceled class entirely as the state’s August coronavirus report showed the highest daily COVID-19 case counts Ohio has experienced in seven months.
Sandusky City Schools officials moved middle and high school students to virtual learning through Sept. 3, after four high school faculty members tested positive. Meanwhile, Athens City School District had to cancel classes entirely districtwide through Labor Day after nearly half of its transportation staff was infected or exposed to COVID-19.
“We must take this virus seriously,” said Eugene Sanders, CEO and superintendent for Sandusky City Schools, in a YouTube video announcing the decision Sunday evening. “If we want to stay in school and if we want to have as regular a school year as possible, we’re going to have to abide by [masking and social distancing] guidelines. We’re not implementing a face covering mandate at this time, but we do, obviously, reserve the right to do that in the best interest of safety for our kids,” he later added.
Athens City School District leaders closed all school buildings from August 27 through Sept. 3 after six members of the 18-person transportation team became unable to work because of COVID-19 and a seventh couldn’t drive because of an unrelated injury.
“We reached the point where we could not safely provide our students with transportation, which is a required service, so we needed to cancel school,” said Thomas Gibbs, Athens City School District superintendent. “We’re hoping that we’ll have healthy staff members by next Tuesday and be able to start the year fresh.”
Athens City School District has not submitted a blended learning declaration form, so it couldn’t offer a remote learning option. The district plans on submitting its form to the state, which would allow it to use remote learning in the future to avoid additional school closures.
School districts must send the Ohio Department of Education a declaration of blended learning by Tuesday to implement a partially-remote structure when students must be sent home or quarantined because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Schools planning to offer an online school, which students can attend short term because of illness or hospitalization, had to apply to the state by July 1, though the Department of Education is taking late applications.
Ohio schools have “calamity days” for temporary closures such as this, however there are only a limited number. If minimum instruction hours are not met, a school may need to use extended hours or additional school days.
The Sandusky City Schools’ decision to transition to remote learning was made in collaboration with the Erie County Health Department and does not impact athletics or other extra-curricular activities. Additional announcements will be made by Labor Day regarding next steps, but the goal is to have everyone back in school after the holiday.
Students in grades 7-12 will use Google Classrooms for at-home live learning during set instruction times. All work will be completed through the Google Classroom program and class attendance will be taken. Breakfast and lunch will still be available for pick up at various centers throughout Sandusky.
Students were able to pick up materials and technology Monday morning from the middle and high school buildings, which had been cleaned and sanitized. Free COVID-19 rapid testing was available at the high school auditorium, as well, for any staff or student who wanted to be tested.