Southwest Ohio’s largest suburban school district may be the first in Ohio to schedule closing for a day as practice should the spreading coronavirus later make holding remote learning necessary, according to state school officials.
Officials at Butler County’s Lakota Schools, which is the ninth-largest in the state, told school families Monday they are ordering its 22 school buildings closed Friday so students can learn from home via online instruction programs and print lessons brought home.
There have been no reported cases of the coronavirus in the 16,500-student Lakota school system. There are three confirmed cases in Ohio in northern Cuyahoga County, near Cleveland.
But Lakota Schools Superintendent Matt Miller said during a school board meeting Monday evening the extraordinary move is simply a test-run to see how the school system could continue to instruct students should the virus spread into the area.
“It’s the last day before spring break so it’s a timing event. It’s a test for us,” Miller told the board.
“Our teachers and staff will be (creating) lessons to send home to our kids on Friday so the kids can learn that way.”
State education officials said they know of no other district among Ohio’s 608 public school systems taking the same measures.
“That being said, we continue to encourage school districts to work together with their local health departments to assess and understand the risk to their student populations and the community and make decisions accordingly,” said Mandy Minick, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education.
No other school districts or private schools in Butler and Warren counties have announced similar planned closings. On Tuesday, a Cincinnati Public Schools building cancelled classes to allow extra cleaning and disinfection of classes. The Academy of World Languages in the Cincinnati community of Evanston was shut down for the day, according to Journal-News media partner WCPO-TV.
Other officials from local public and private schools said they are preparing their own precautionary closing plans but have no plans to activate those procedures.
School officials said they are communicating regularly with local and county health officials to monitor health conditions in both their schools and surrounding communities.
Tracey Carson, spokeswoman for Mason Schools, the largest in Warren County, said that “we are not planning to do a drill” involving a practice school closing.
“We’ve developed a series of instructional protocols for how educators will support students’ well-being and academic progress when the conditions for teaching and learning aren’t ideal or like anything we’ve experienced before,” she said.
“We have a plan to deliver remote learning opportunities for all students should schools need to close in the future. Additionally, if a student needs to self-quarantine, teachers will work with that student to make sure that they do not fall behind.”
Hamilton school officials said they are closely monitoring the situation.
“The district has representatives attending regular updates at the county level and the Hamilton leadership team continues to meet daily to monitor and plan if our schools need to close,” said Hamilton Superintendent Mike Holbrook.
Lakota’s plan, which in part is made possible by the district’s previously providing free laptop computers to middle and high school students, will also include elementary students who do not have access or the abilities for laptop learning to receive paper assignments passed out by teachers on Thursday’s school day.
“This is just us being prepared,” said Miller. “Hopefully this is us being over-cautious, but it gives us a leg up in terms of doing what would be best for our kids if we were shut down for a week or two or three,.”