Education Health

School systems across the Ohio Valley are responding to the coronavirus pandemic by canceling face-to-face classes and extending spring breaks. That’s left teachers, administrators and parents scrambling to meet the unexpected challenges to care for, feed, and educate children while they are away from school. 

Ashley Blankenship has two school-age children in Athens, Ohio. One attends the Beacon School For Children with Developmental Disabilities in Athens, a school that closed Friday and has said it will not reopen until at least April 3. Blankenship’s son Peyton receives multiple types of therapy at Beacon and isn’t able to access those resources while the school is closed. 

“Obviously yes, we do have concerns about this lapse in his therapy time,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship said the family is finding ways to occupy their time and continue the children’s education with online resources. 

Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia are among at least seven states closing some or all K-12 schools. In Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear asked school systems to cease in-person classes for at least two weeks. Many schools have heeded the call, which means parents who are still working need to find childcare. 

Mike Hammons is vice president of advocacy at Learning Grove, a nonprofit in Northern Kentucky that provides childcare. The nonprofit is asking the state if it can take on more children to accommodate working parents. Hammons says closures of schools and even child care programs “could really hurt childcare providers, especially some of the smaller providers. If they have to close for any length of time it could bankrupt those childcare centers.” 

Across the border in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice announced a total closure of the state’s K-12 schools Friday. 

“We’ve got to close the schools because the probability is just too high,” Justice said. “And that is a breeding ground. We know that. And they can go right straight back and go to their grandparents or whatever it may be and cause a real-life problem.” 

Although children appear to be less likely to become dangerously sick due to the coronavirus, they can still act as disease vectors, spreading illness to those they come in contact with.

Many colleges and universities across the region have also made the decision to cancel face-to-face classes or extend spring break in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Ohio Valley schools, nonprofits and government agencies are scrambling to continue providing some meals for children while schools are closed. Some schools, such as those in Harrison County, Kentucky, are already doing so. God’s Pantry Food Bank CEO Mike Halligan told the Ohio Valley ReSource Tuesday that the Lexington-based nonprofit is prepared to meet increased demand at central and eastern Kentucky food pantries and soup kitchens for several weeks, but may experience shortages if coronavirus-related economic hardship persists for several months.