GOSHEN — Goshen school board members approved their back-to-school plan Monday evening.
The plan will allow elementary students to attend in-person classes during a shortened school day with personal protection standards and social distancing in place. Only half of middle school and high school students will attend in-person classes at any one time.
“Tonight I’m recommending, along with the Goshen Community Schools leadership team, an opening to the 2020-2021 school year that ensures the safety of students and staff,” said GCS Interim Superintendent Steven Hope in introducing the finalized plan. “The GCS reopening plan, Goshen Goes Back to School, provides for both flexibility, and for options. The flexibility of our plan allows GCS to adjust our reopening to respond to the changing pandemic, and to the specific conditions of the pandemic within the Goshen community. The options in our plan guarantee that each student, and each family, will be served, and served well, whether returning to us in person, or returning to us online.”
The reopening plan includes five available courses of action, beginning with the least disruptive at Course I and concluding with the most disruptive at Course V, that the district can employ given the changing status of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan breaks down as follows:
• Course I: This course is a reference point and is simply the regular GCS schedule. This schedule would be used only if the pandemic ends.
• Course II: This course would be used in times when the pandemic is in check, with new COVID cases either stagnant or declining. Course II utilizes the regular GCS schedule and requires all students and staff to wear a mask or face shield and maintain physical distancing.
• Course III: In times of increasing COVID cases and increased COVID-related hospitalizations, Course III would be employed. Course III incorporates the same personal protective equipment and physical distancing and then adds an eLearning component. Students in grades K-5 would have a shortened day, with eLearning for specials. Grades 6-12 would have an e-learning day every Wednesday.
• Course IV: This course would be employed in times of rapidly expanding cases and hospitalizations. These more severe modifications would respond to the greater risks in the environment and would help diminish the number of COVID cases. Course IV has only 50% of students attending each day on an alternating schedule and employs an e-learning day for all grades.
• Course V: This course would be used in a time of severe pandemic or a shutdown of all Indiana schools. Course V has all students learning online at home.
Additionally, a new fully online teaching program, titled the Goshen Connections Academy, will also be made available to any student who chooses not to return to in-person classes during the new school year.
When originally introduced during the board’s July 13 meeting, school leadership had recommended that the district’s entire student body, grades K-12, return to school under Course III, which officials felt provided the safest school environment possible while still allowing for all students to return to in-person classes.
Along those lines, Hope referenced a recent poll of more than 4,200 district families which found that more than 70% of parents want their children to return to in-person classes.
However, in the two weeks since the plan’s Course III option was recommended at the board’s July 13 meeting, Hope noted that positive COVID-19 cases in Goshen and across Elkhart County have continued to rise, causing school leadership to pull back on their original recommendation.
In the end, it was ultimately decided that students in grades K-5 should return to school under Course III, while students at the secondary level, grades 6-12, should return under Course IV.
“At the secondary level, where our students are greater carriers of the virus, it makes sense to decrease that number of students in the building temporarily,” Hope said of his changed recommendation. “Secondary students are also better able to take care of themselves and to better manage the requirements of eLearning. If the number of cases continues to drop, then we hope to move from Course IV to Course III. Of course, if the number of cases continues to rise, we can move on to Course V.
“For these reasons, we believe it is best to start the school year with K-5 at Course III, and grades 6-12 at Course IV,” he added of the recommendation. “We hope that everybody will move to Course III at a later date.”
As an aside, Hope noted that should the area’s positive virus numbers continue to increase and the district be prohibited from starting with live instruction on Aug. 10, then it is his recommendation that the district delay its start date by one day, to Aug. 11.
“This will allow us at least an additional planning day, and a day to get devices out to parents,” he said of the suggestion.
RETURN TO COURSE III?
Asked how school leadership will determine if and when it is safe for the district to return to Course III for all students, Hope noted that Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz recently recommended that the district hold off on such a change until the county has seen a decline in COVID positivity rates for at least 14 consecutive days.
“The recommendation for Course IV for grades 6-12 is based on current COVID data not only for Elkhart County, but for the Goshen area,” Hope added of the recommendation. “That rate has not been good. So, with that current situation, we think it makes sense to start with Course IV.”
A majority of the board’s members agreed, and the proposed reopening plan was passed as amended in a vote of 5-1 in favor.
Voting for passage of the finalized reopening plan were board members Amanda Qualls, Keith Goodman, Bradd Weddell, Roger Nafziger and Jose Elizalde. Voting against the plan’s passage was board member Mario Garber. Board member Felipe Merino was not present at Monday’s meeting.
To view the school corporation’s full 36-page reopening plan, click here.