Coronavirus In Ohio: How K-12 Schools Are Preparing For An Outbreak

Mar 11, 2020

Although Gov. Mike DeWine has not ordered schools in Ohio to close, he has asked them to review and update their safety plans in preparation for a coronavirus outbreak.

Reynoldsburg City Schools announces it will close on Friday, March 13, "as we take proactive steps to prevent the spread of germs."

Columbus City Schools, the largest district in Central Ohio, declined an interview request for this story. However, on a coronavirus website maintained by the district, administrators posted a letter addressing COVID-19 that was sent to families on March 8.

“Columbus City Schools is working closely with Columbus Public Health to monitor the situation and develop a coordinated and comprehensive public health plan to ensure we are prepared if cases arise in our community," wrote Kate King, director of health, family and community services for the district.

Pickerington Schools is going one stop further by enacting plans to restrict some events in their district.

“The beginning of the end of the school day this Friday, March 13, we have decided that all school related field trips, travel, as well as any planned community events are canceled until further notice,” said spokeswoman Crystal Davis.

Four COVID-19 have been confirmed so far in Ohio, with 24 more people under investigation. Many colleges, including The Ohio State University, have suspended classes, extended spring break and moved to online-only instruction.

Coronavirus In Ohio: Live Coverage

Meanwhile, K-12 schools are ramping up cleaning measures for buildings and transportation vehicles in their districts.

“Touch surfaces such as door handles, desks, water fountains, technology, etc. will be cleaned daily,” said Todd Meyer, chief operations officer for Olentangy Local Schools. “We will do a deep clean of our buildings this weekend starting on Friday afternoon through the weekend as well as all of our buses and transportation vehicles.”

School representatives also said they are exploring remote learning opportunities for their students.

“We are fortunate that we are already a one-to-one school district, which means that all of our teachers and most of our students already have a digital learning device,” David said.

Meyer said Olentangy Local Schools is putting plans in place to lend digital devices to families if needed.

At a state level, school superintendent Paolo DeMaria attempted to reassure education leaders about how they should be preparing. In a social media video posted by the Ohio Department of Education yesterday, DeMaria said schools should focus on flexibility and communication, and try to maintain open communication with families.

"Let them know what you’re doing, because that will create a sense of safety and an awareness that you understand the challenges that you face and you’re gonna be partners with them in getting through this,” DeMaria said.

DeMaria said state testing will currently continue as planned.

“One of the things that has come up quite frequently is about state testing,” he said. “Right now, we’re keeping the schedule the way it is, nothing is going to change, because frankly there’s a lot of flexibility already built into that schedule.”

On Thursday, DeWine said that he will work with the Ohio legislature to waive testing requirements if schools are shut down.

The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands. 
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. 
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

Ohio's coronavirus call center is open to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The hotline number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634.