TALLMADGE – The schools may be closed but essential staff is working behind the walls to maintain learning for its approximately 2,500 students.

Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said the school district is following the guidelines set by Gov. Mike DeWIne and President Donald Trump.

The governor and his team are saying Ohio is not set to peak for the COVID-19 until mid-April, Ferguson said.

"We’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best," Ferguson said. "We’re setting up infrastructure for the rest of the year if we have to. If the kids are back early, that’s good news."

Next week is spring break, but teachers are creating work for the next three days, Ferguson said. This creates an infrastructure in place for teachers and families to communicate with one another. Teachers can answer their email and phones.

Some classes have electronic platforms but only grades 6, 7 and 8 have Chromebooks for every student, he said. The schools can provide some Chromebooks to those students who need a device. The schools will help families obtain internet access, and Spectrum is offering 60 days for free.

"If you don’t have access to the internet, we’ll get you the information in lesson packets," Ferguson said. "We are down to essential staff to keep things running. Each building is down to an administrator or two and we had teachers preparing the instruction units for the next two weeks and distributing them online and in packets."

Many of the packets went home with students on Friday before the shutdown, but parents can pick up lost or missing packets, which will be available Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, he said.

Each building is going to be manned the rest of this week during regular school hours, but parents are asked to call ahead before coming to pick up their child’s packet from the school they are attending – the high school, middle school, Munroe and Dunbar elementary - so the limited staff can respond, Ferguson said.

"We also have folks who have transportation challenges, and if they can’t come in, we can drop packets in the mail," he said.

The next few days will be like the beginning of school, and the teachers and staff will need to make changes to improve interaction between teachers and families, he said.

"We’re asking parents to be patient and help us through this, but we’re going to be here for them," Ferguson said. "We’ve talked to staff. We’re going to collect material we’re assigning and access it for progress. No student’s grade will be harmed during this time."

Ferguson said each student will be assessed individually when they return to school, and those who need help will receive it.

"As we get through this, we’re ramping up giving instruction, and we’re in this unique once-in-a-lifetime situation and may look down the road at summer school or two-week refresher classes in August," he said.

This is the height of testing, Ferguson said, but DeWine said high school seniors shouldn’t worry about graduation requirements, and he’ll work with legislation to reduce or eliminate them.

"Graduation requirements are complicated, and we’re waiting for guidance and the governor," Ferguson said. "We’re thankful that Gov. Dewine has taken the lead nationwide."

Now is not the time to worry about state testing, Ferguson said. The ACT on April 4 was canceled nationally.

"We need to help our kids through this, and we’re committed to doing the right thing for our seniors," he said. "Students who were taking college courses were impacted by Kent State University and the University of Akron closing. They no longer have face-to-face classes."

Meals for students

The schools started processing meals Monday. According to the district’s website, five breakfasts and lunches will be provided each week, with plans to have the program up set and running by Thursday, March 19.

Students should register online at the school website or Tallmadge School Closure Meal Hotline at 330-633-5587.

"We have pickup and delivery," Ferguson said. "We feel very blessed in this community with the cooperation of its citizens. Knowing it would take a few days for the meal program, we gave families Dare to Share food bags for the weekend, which we’ve done for a number of years."

The Tallmadge High School FCCLA and city organizations donated extra food for Friday’s bags as well as elementary schools who had a flash food drive. Volunteers plan to work during the shutdown and deliver bags.

"We could not believe the amount of food that came from our families who sent non-perishables home to families to hold them over until this program began," Ferguson said.

For updates and information go to www.tallmadgeschools.org where the banner at the top of the page has updates.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com