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Schools need to carefully weigh any decisions to close for virus

In a short amount of time, Ohio has gone from having no known cases of the coronavirus to seeing scores of large gatherings canceled, colleges and universities moving to online-only classes and even some churches stopping worship services, as the first cases emerge in the state.

At the urging of Gov. Mike DeWine many higher education facilities across Ohio made the move Tuesday to cancel in-person classes, including Marietta College and other schools in our region.

The governor has not asked for public K-12 districts to make the same decision, although we’re sure it’s on the minds of those school officials. We hope that they weigh the decision to close very carefully and only do so as a last resort.

In a post from Marietta City Schools Superintendent Will Hampton Wednesday, that seemed to be the case. Hampton said they are closely monitoring the situation, taking precautions and making plans in case they do need to close.

However, “We are all committed to keeping our schools open,” he said. “We feel that it is in the best interest of our schools and communities.”

It’s important to be cautious but also not to overreact. Athens City Schools will close until the end of March but that decision was made due to the district’s close proximity to Ohio University and the many people there who traveled over spring break, the superintendent explained. Our school systems don’t have that same exposure.

There are many, many downsides to public schools closing to consider. Finding full-time, last-minute child care could be impossible for some families and create an emergency financial situation for others.

Many of our local students also rely on schools for food each day–they may not get a meal otherwise. This is the reason programs like GoPacks exist, to provide those meals during school breaks. But are they prepared for an unplanned, extended break that could occur?

What about the impact on required state testing? How would makeup days fit in and adhere to teacher and staff contracts? What about the lost instructional time? Our local districts can’t just switch to online classes. Too many of our students don’t have access to reliable internet or even computers.

This is an unprecedented situation for our current school leaders. We want them to consider the public health interest, but also not to make a rushed decision or give in to fear. At the moment, there are no known cases in our region. Please, weigh all the factors and only close schools if absolutely necessary.

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