Ohio extends school closures to May 1

The Center Square — The Ohio Department of Health is extending its order to keep schools closed through the end of April, Gov. Mike DeWine announced.

The previous order was to expire on April 3, but the new directive extends the closure through May 1.

The decision is the latest action to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Ohio, where there are 1,933 confirmed cases and 39 deaths.

“There is the real possibility that our schools could stay closed longer than this, but we want to give parents and teachers as much notice and flexibility as we can,” DeWine said in a news release. “Schools should continue to do what they’re doing now – providing the best remote learning that they can, serving meals to students in new ways, and planning for what the rest of the year may look like.”

The Ohio Education Association (OEA), which represents 122,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals in public schools, colleges and universities across the Buckeye State, supported the decision to extend the closure.

“As Ohio faces the increased challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 public health pandemic, OEA’s top priority is working with state leaders and local school districts to ensure the health and well-being of all students, educators and staff,” OEA President Scott DiMauro said in a statement.

“Ohio’s educators continue to do extraordinary work as advocates for their students,” DiMauro added. “OEA members have prepared for distance learning that connects students to school communities and reinforces and strengthens their current skills. They have also mobilized to provide needed meals and other support for their students.”

Last week, state lawmakers passed a bill aimed at addressing a myriad of issues stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak. Amended Substitute House Bill 197, in part, allows high school seniors to graduate if their school determines they are “on track to do so.”

Meanwhile, DeWine announced he has formed a “Homelessness Team” to help anyone who relies on domestic shelters, group homes, homeless shelters and recovery housing. These facilities are problematic for social distancing mandates, officials said.

The Ohio Housing Financing Agency Board approved $5 million for homelessness prevention and emergency rental help. The Ohio Development Services Agency formed a $1 million Emergency Shelter Gap Funding Program to support emergency shelter providers.

Several organizations, including Ohio Recovery Housing, the Ohio Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio, are working to give localized guidelines to shelters.