'Any decision to close schools must include a plan for effective learning'

A large audience of community leaders, agency directors and emergency services personnel assembled Wednesday morning for a coronavirus update from Richland Public Health.

      Mansfield City Schools Superintendent Stan Jefferson said Wednesday any future decision to close schools in response to the coronavirus threat must include a plan to maintain effective learning for students in kindergarten through high school.

      On Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine recommended that elementary and secondary schools remain open but said officials and families should prepare for the possibility of closures. The governor declared a state of emergency after Ohio’s first three cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, were confirmed in Cuyahoga County.

      “We continue to clean and disinfect our buildings, buses and offices. But what occurs if we have to go to the next step and close?” Jefferson said. “Every district must confront that question. I will meet with area superintendents Friday at Pioneer Career Center to discuss options.”

      Ohio State University and many other state colleges and universities announced Tuesday they will temporarily close classrooms in favor of online and remote learning.

      Jefferson said it is much easier to implement online learning at the collegiate level than it is for most public school districts. College students have computers or tablets and can easily log in to their school’s online instruction, he said.

      “Some people say, ‘Just use technology’ to allow students to work on online assignments from home if our schools are closed, but it’s just not that simple,” Jefferson said. “Do all of our homes have WI-FI? Do all of our homes have technology? 

      “Online study might fit many of our 7-12 students, but what about those in kindergarten through sixth grade? We must have a plan that would be not just an appeasement but a means of effective learning at home for the masses, all students in kindergarten through high school.”

      Last week, a letter providing more information about the coronavirus and explaining the district’s preventive measures was sent home with K-6 students and posted on the middle school and high school websites.

      Jefferson said more information will be shared immediately as the district, working closely with Richland Public Health and the governor’s office, decides if any further action is warranted.

      Approximately 130 community leaders, agency directors and emergency services personnel gathered Wednesday morning at Richland Children Services for a coronavirus update from Richland Public Health. Susan Inscore and Clara Freer, two of Mansfield City Schools’ six school nurses, attended.

      Richland Health Commissioner Sarah Humphrey said experts believe a vaccine to combat the coronavirus won’t be available for a year to 18 months. Until then, she said, steps will have to be taken to prevent the spread of the disease, such as limiting close contact among people, even at work.

      Richland Health monitors information daily from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and the Ohio Department of Health.

      “We are in the midst of a big public health problem. Until a vaccine is available, we will have to make social decisions,” she said. “We are all looking for the best outcome. This is a rapidly moving situation. Community support of each other is important.”

      Humphrey and her staff displayed figures showing 113,702 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31. Nearly 81,000 cases have been in China, 696 in the United States. The death toll has reached 3,140 in China and 25 in the U.S., mostly among the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions.

      On a more positive note, Humphrey said 80 percent of coronavirus cases have been classified as mild.

      Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the best defense against the virus along with avoiding close contact with others.

      “There won’t be easy decisions for organizers of large public gatherings,” Humphrey said. “The situation is evolving daily. It is only a matter of time before we increase our precautionary measures.”

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