Kuntzman: Schools must remain closed

Caroline Kuntzman, Staff Columnist

On March 22, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a “stay at home” order to go into effect at midnight the following day. It greatly restricted normal daily activities for residents of Ohio, who can now only leave the house to seek medical services, buy essential goods like groceries, take walks and work essential jobs. 

These measures are not the first effort by the state to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

On March 12, DeWine announced a ban on gatherings of over 100 people. Certain spaces, such as medical centers, airports and libraries, are exempt from this rule, but it has halted many aspects of daily life—school included. All across Ohio, K-12 schools will be closed until April 3. 

Schools are responding to this in a number of ways. Some, such as the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), decided to extend their spring break. Students at CMSD schools had their last day of instruction on March 13. Parent-teacher conferences were scheduled for March 16, where some students received academic material to work on over break. CMSD will continue providing meal services at 22 centers for students 18 and younger. Students can pick up educational supplements at these meal distribution centers as well. 

Other schools, such as Ratner Montessori School, have materials available for students online to help them continue learning during the closure. This does present a challenge for households that lack internet access or technology devices, although some companies are trying to bridge this gap. Internet provider Spectrum is offering 60 days of free service to households with students who do not have Spectrum broadband subscriptions to help families in this position. 

While these measures will likely help students continue to learn, the current situation presents an unprecedented challenge to students. Those who are expected to continue curriculum online may struggle due to a lack of reliable internet access. With parents and siblings potentially working from home as well, students may have a difficult time completing their work if they have to share electronic devices with other members of their family. 

Students continuing their education through other mediums face challenges as well. Sending students home with hard copies of their material ensures that lacking internet access won’t interfere with their ability to learn, but it still requires them to learn without the structure of a normal classroom environment and the added help of a teacher or tutor. Parents may be able to provide some guidance for younger students, but will likely be underprepared to assist others with the material.

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Ohio, public schools may extend their closure. DeWine is willing to keep schools closed through the end of the academic year if necessary. There are 1,653 confirmed cases in Ohio, yet estimates of the number infected are as high as 100,000. All possible precautions—including closing schools for the remainder of the year—are necessary to slow the transmission of the coronavirus.

While maintaining social distancing measures are especially difficult on students and non-essential workers, this protocol is absolutely critical to the public’s health. The available data suggests that 80.9% of patients have little to no symptoms, but the virus remains highly contagious, which could cause the number of severe cases to increase. As the number of people affected continues to increase, the American healthcare system will become overwhelmed. Until the spread of COVID-19 stops, or at least plateaus, schools and other institutions need to remain closed to prevent a greater public health crisis.