Top stories of 2020: How schools transformed through a rollercoaster of changes

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

CDC rolls out tools for schools to reopen safely

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic the end of the last school year and the first half of the current one will be forever remembered as the time our local schools were transformed in ways never before seen.

For area schools 2020 was nearly dominated - from the month of March on - by the threat of the coronavirus and all the changes the potentially deadly virus brought with it.

But there were other notable education news stories in 2020, some connected to the pandemic, some not.

The year started with an extraordinarily contentious issue that saw area public school leaders – and those of private schools – divided.

Prior to the onset of the coronavirus in March, Ohio lawmakers were considering dramatically expanding the state’s Ed Choice private school voucher program to make many more school-age children eligible to have their non-public school tuition paid for by local, taxpayer-funded school systems.

The public lobbying by a large number of the region’s superintendents was previously unseen as they held joint, group press conferences across Ohio to pressure lawmakers to abandon their Ed Choice expansion plans.

ExploreArea leaders respond to big changes in school voucher program, state testing

But at the some time the issue was moving to some resolution among state legislators, news of a global pandemic arrived in March, shelving much of the issue for months until November, when the Ohio Legislature with little notice made quickly to enact Ed Choice changes leaving some superintendents disappointed and frustrated.

Explore‘Obviously, I am disappointed’: Butler County officials react to school voucher program changes
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Then the onset of the coronavirus brought with it a tsunami of rapidly, never-before-seen changes to area public and private schools.

All K-12 schools were closed by orders from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, state and local health officials, leaving area school officials and teachers to quickly scramble in creating remote, learning from home instructional programs for all students.

Miami University and other higher education institutions locally and nationwide also closed in-person learning and hastily cobbled together their own digital learning for students to learn remotely. In late March and early April, area universities began to order their thousands of students living in residence halls on campuses to return to their family homes.

ExploreMiami to refund $27M in student fees due to coronavirus shutdown

And the coronavirus laid bare a long-standing problem for some area districts by revealing the digital divide between students from families who had computer laptops and mobile devices – including internet wireless access – and those families too poor to afford such essential learning tools.

Explore‘It was really rough‘: School changes spotlight digital divide for needy families in Butler County

And the ramifications of the virus also saw the halting of sports during the last part of the 2019-2020 school year and many changes – including reduced fans at football games – during schools’ fall season.

High school graduations were first postponed, then drastically modified into safe, social distancing events – sometimes with families in cars in school parking lots – and even a local drive-in movie theatre was used for Hamilton Schools’ commencement.

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The crucial state exams given each spring were abandoned by orders of state education officials and so the fall saw no annual report card for public schools as usually compiled by the Ohio Department of Education.

And school schedules, usually so stable and reliable area school officials traditionally approve them in two-year increments, were left wildly in flux due to the uncertainties brought on by the rollercoaster data changes on the number of area residents testing positive for the virus.

ExploreCoronavirus reversal: More Butler County schools choose return to normal classes

Masks, social distancing in schools – when districts did conduct in-person classes – and the never-tried-before concept of “virtual learning option” (VLO), used by thousands of school families locally also saw children entirely out of classes for this school year’s first semester with many staying in the VLO programs into 2021.

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