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Schools preparing for longer shutdown

Graphic courtesy of the Ohio Department of Health. Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, continues to ask that people practice physical distancing measures to stretch out the surge of COVID-19 cases in Ohio so as not to overwhelm hospitals at the peak of the virus’s infection of the general population.

School doors will remain closed at least through May 1.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the extension Monday during his daily press conference. The original March 14 state health order closed K-12 schools until April 3.

“It’s clear we’re not going to be back in the classroom before May 1,” said DeWine, nodding to projected numbers of COVID-19 cases continuing to increase throughout April.

“Is it possible that that will have to continue remotely until the end of the school year? It is,” said DeWine. “The initial decision was made for the safety of students, but also frankly for every Ohioan.”

Marietta City Schools Superintendent Will Hampton responded Monday saying the focus this week for his staff is getting connected with students that haven’t made contact with their teachers yet.

“That order came while we weren’t in school yet, so we’re all learning on the fly how to provide for our kids,” said Hampton. “This is just such a unique moment in time… all of our expectations need to be different as well. We’re learning and feeling our way through this.”

DeWine acknowledged Monday that school districts with lower-income populations and those in less metropolitan areas may not as easily continue through April without brick-and-mortar instruction.

“Not every school has the ability to do distance learning,” said DeWine. “In the rural areas we may have families that cannot access — in fact whole communities that cannot access the internet.”

Hampton said packets for a paper-pencil version of review and enrich lessons are underway for the district.

“But, how do you introduce new material if you know not everyone is going to get it, and not everyone is going to have support in place to help them?” asked Hampton. “We’re asking kids right now to self-instruct.”

And to plan for April, the superintendent said, he’s also looking to the rest of the school year.

“We’re not going to go back to school, that’s my gut telling me. I’ve been telling my people all along to plan on more than the first two weeks he gave us. Think forward in two-week chunks,” said Hampton. “Establish a (reliable) connection with your students… some teachers are using other kids to connect with the ones they haven’t heard from yet.”

Then, he said, establish a routine.

DeWine also telegraphed the potential for another order this week — this one concerning parks, playgrounds and basketball courts.

“If people want to walk in the state parks, they have ample space to practice distancing,” said DeWine. “But any day the weather gets better you are seeing people congregate.”

Marietta Police Chief Rodney Hupp said Monday that he has told his patrol officers to “be watchful of large groups of congregating youth.”

Some parents have complained to the mayor’s office that youth now not in school have taken to the city skate park, while other parents have voiced worry and anger over families using playground equipment.

“Frankly some of the mayors have taken the action of removing the (basketball) rims,” DeWine described. “This is a work in progress.”

Hupp also joined local officials in a similar broadcast moderated by Marietta College President Bill Ruud and the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce.

In that call:

Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks and Washington County Commissioner David White said county officials are watching the intake of sales tax and how current stay-at-home orders in Ohio may affect county revenues for both law enforcement and county services.

Congressman Bill Johnson explained the federal stimulus bill which President Donald Trump signed Friday. Johnson noted that the stimulus funds will be directed to taxpayers’ bank accounts on file with the Internal Revenue Service within three weeks.

“It’s designed to help working Americans that are struggling to make ends meet,” said the congressman. “If you have a social security number, you’re going to get a check. That includes social security beneficiaries.”

Marietta Mayor Josh Schlicher said no considerations or conversations have yet been made to close the city’s border with West Virginia. And Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham emphasized the need for detailed descriptions when calling 911 in a health emergency.

After the broadcast, Durham also spoke with the Times, further explaining ways that families and individuals can help first responders during the national crisis.

“Minimizing going out to your individual needs, but also only send one person into the store if you’re able to,” he said. “And coming home, focus on (removing) opportunities for cross-contamination.”

Durham said his staff are working to not take home the virus by keeping their work gear at the stations.

“All our department clothing and boots stay here, so I go into work and leave work in street clothes,” he described. “Doing things like that, simple things like when you come in, make sure you wash your hands. Leave your shoes at the door. And it’s a great practice, too, to eliminate the risk of flu.”

The fire chief also said that all patients transported by the department are being given respiratory protection.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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