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Marietta board holds first meeting since school closures

The board members and administration officials sat several feet apart from one another around half the perimeter of the meeting room in the Marietta City Schools administration building Monday morning, convening the first regular meeting of the board since the COVID-19 response closed the district’s buildings.

All five board members were present, along with superintendent Will Hampton and treasurer Frank Antill. No one from the general public attended the meeting, a sign of the times as more restrictions are imposed on public movement and gatherings.

Hampton offered a status report as the second week of building closures began. The district was out of session for spring break from March 9-13, and on March 16 the state’s order to cease in-person instruction came into effect, so students haven’t been in classrooms in Marietta since March 6.

The district’s first priority after the governor’s directive to close buildings was ensuring the 50 percent of Marietta City Schools students who rely on free and reduced breakfast and lunch continued getting food from the program.

“That was one of my biggest worries,” Hampton said. “We’re adding and expanding that effort, but using no volunteers. We want as few people as possible involved.”

Board member Mark Duckworth noted the district has about 1,300 children on the lunch program, and Hampton said about 950 were served last week.

“The number is growing every day,” he said.

Board member Stacey Hall remarked that restaurants, which have been closed to in-person dining, are donating food to local causes. Nonprofits, Hampton said, are suffering because they have had to cancel their fundraising events.

Hall said Go Packs, the nonprofit that provides food for needy students over weekends and holiday breaks, is particularly in need. Donations, she said, can be made online at GoPacks4Kids.org/donate.html.

The governor’s order means school buildings will be closed until at least April 6, and most public discussion on the novel coronavirus suggests that school buildings might not re-open for the remainder of the school year. Marietta, along with other Ohio districts, has arranged for its education programs to be delivered remotely.

Board member Bill Hutchinson said the public response to the district’s performance has been positive.

“For the situation we’re in, I haven’t heard one bad thing from the community,” he said.

Up to a third of households in Washington County, according to Census data, don’t have internet service, and Hampton said the district has exploited every measure available to get materials to the students who can’t log in through computers.

“We’re taking some of them (paper) packets, giving them out at lunch locations, or parents are picking them up,” he said. Teachers are the point of contact for getting materials to and from parents, caregivers and students, he said.

Hall said even households that don’t have broadband connections have cellphones.

“There are lots of layers there, we’re looking at every form of technology and communication,” she said. Students can be sent lesson documents as email attachments, and Hampton said some are returning their work by photographing documents with their phones and emailing the images to teachers.

“This is like Day One, we’re finding solutions and working through it,” Hampton said.

In other matters, the board:

• Accepted $4,764.74 in various donations.

• Approved an agreement for use of Marietta College facilities for the May 24 senior graduation ceremony, although it is uncertain whether the ceremony will be held.

• Approved purchase of a 66-passenger handicap bus for $105,000.

• Approved a resolution authorizing the district to continue its agreement with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission for $75,731,803. The resolution allows the district to preserve the state financing agreement for a building project should the district decide to place a project on the November ballot.

The board is scheduled to meet next at 6 p.m. April 27. The administration noted that it will investigate the possibility, and the legality, of holding meetings using streaming technology.

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

The board:

• Discussed the current state of learning and operations as the second week of building closures begins.

• Canceled for the time being further meetings of the long term facilities planning committee.

• Passed a resolution to continue its agreement with the Ohio Facilities Construction. Commission.

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