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Teacher Kelly Rumfelt was working in her classroom Thursday when she learned that all Elkhart County schools will begin the school year with online learning for all students.

“I heard the news while I was working in my classroom and was instantly upset,” said Rumfelt, who is a teacher at Northridge Middle School. “And more upset for my senior than anything else. This. Isn’t. Fair.”

According to information first announced by Goshen Community Schools in a Facebook post made just after 5 p.m. Thursday, officials stated a phone conference with all public school superintendents from Elkhart County and health officials from the county had been held earlier in the day and, upon recommendation from county Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz, online learning would be the safest course of action for schools.

“Online learning will continue through September 28, 2020, unless pandemic conditions improve significantly enough to safely reopen schools. At this time, Goshen Community Schools (GCS) will start the year on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 with all grades in Course V, which is online learning from home,” the post stated.

When asked Thursday night if the health department would be making an announcement about the in-person school delay, Dr. Lydia Mertz responded via text message, “A lot of rumors are flying. The Elkhart County Health Department has no announcement. When we do have announcements we make them through the usual channels. Thanks.” Further clarification was requested, but no response was received by press time.

Rumfelt explained that she is not just affected by the decision as a teacher, but also as the parent of three children who all play sports.

“Notably, a senior who plays football,” she said. “We’ve had coaches reach out to him, saying that they are looking forward to seeing him play this fall — if it doesn’t happen, they won’t see him play. This affects what college he goes to, the amount in scholarships, and eventually what his future path will be.”

On Thursday evening, Rumfelt was busy organizing a protest via Facebook events for noon Friday at the Elkhart County Health Department.

The description for the event titled Save our Elkhart County Sports!! stated, “Join us in a respectful protest of the closing of the Elkhart County Fall Sports. This protest is to show our disappointment with the decision made by leaders of the Elkhart County Health Department. Our goal is for them to reverse their decision and to allow these VOLUNTARY sports to proceed. Both the athletes and their parents are well aware of the risks and feel that the county is taking away their rights to participate in these voluntary sports. This decision has not only affected these students’ health by not allowing this healthy exercise, but it is also limiting their abilities to obtain scholarships that would drastically affect their futures. Please join us at noon tomorrow! Please make sure you are respectful by wearing a mask and try to social distance when possible — and feel free to bring a sign!”

When asked if there was anything she would like to get across to Mertz during the event, Rumfelt said it was that sports are voluntary.

“Both the athlete and the parents are aware of all the risks,” she said. “It should be the choice of the parents as to whether or not our student-athletes participate. She’s taking away our rights to choose what is best for our families.”

Concord Community Schools Superintendent Dan Funston also made an announcement on the school’s Facebook page and website about back-to-school plans.

“Today the Elkhart County Health Department asked all public and private schools to begin the school year virtually until September 28th,” the announcement stated. “Additionally, all athletics, extracurricular and co-curricular activities have been suspended for the time being.”

The first day of school will begin virtually Wednesday for all Concord students, according to the announcement.

“We have been preparing for this scenario and will communicate plans to kick off virtual learning in a positive way,” Funston stated in the news release. “Students in grades K-12 who are new to the district, including kindergartners and new enrollees, may pick up their Chromebooks at Concord Intermediate School from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 11.

“Families who need to drop off/pick up paperwork from school buildings may do so during regular office hours as our offices will remain open. Additional details about classroom material pick-up, student meal distribution, etc. will be shared via our website, SchoolMessenger, and social media accounts.”

Middlebury Community Schools made the announcement on its Facebook page around 6:30 p.m. Thursday that school will be “100% virtually instead of in person.”

“That means no students will attend school in person from August 12 until September 28,” the post stated. “Your schools will contact you about virtual instruction, picking up devices, supplies, and meeting teachers. All athletic practices and contests are canceled until September 28. Please help your children understand that we will see them in person as soon as we can.”

The following information was also announced in Goshen Community Schools Facebook post:

• GCS will delay the start of the school year by one day, making the first day of school Tuesday to allow administrators and teachers an additional day of preparation to get ready for an online start. To make up for the loss of the instructional school day, GCS will use the Friday before President’s Day, Jan. 15, 2021, as a school day.

• Meals will be served by pick-up/drive-through at each school, with staff members available to direct families through the line at each school. Families should have the student IDs, or student ID number, of the students for whom they wish to pick up lunches. Lunch will be available for pick-up Monday through Friday. Times for pick up at individual schools will be announced next week. Meals will be available starting Tuesday.

• Schools will be developing alternative plans for device pickup, as well as meeting their teachers. More information will be coming out as soon as those plans are confirmed.

• School counselors, social workers, instructors, TOIs, nurses and paraprofessionals will be available for students and their families Monday through Friday via phone calls, email or by other arrangements as set up with school staff members.

• Teachers will start online lessons Tuesday. All students should start logging in as instructed.

• Principals and office staff will be available in the school buildings Monday through Friday during school hours.

• The GCS Administration Center will also be open to help answer questions or assist patrons as needed.

“Goshen’s reopening plan included courses of action to make these kinds of abrupt changes and we are prepared to serve all students in an online learning environment,” the post continued. “We will continue to be flexible during this pandemic and communicate changes to you as soon as possible. We will always choose to do what is best for our students and staff, and what is recommended by the local and state health officials. We appreciate your understanding (along with a healthy dose of flexibility!) as we change our plans to start in Course V to begin the 2020-21 school year. Our full COVID-19 school plan may be found at: https://buff.ly/3gVC38X.”

Baugo Community Schools officials made a similar announcement on their Facebook page Thursday, adding officials will “continue to follow the guidance of the health department.”

Virtual learning will begin in Baugo on Aug. 13, according to the announcement, and student electronic devices will be distributed from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

“We are saddened by these last-minute changes, especially as we have witnessed the hustle and bustle of students on campus in recent days,” Baugo officials stated in the news release.

MULTIPLE PROTESTS

Thursday’s decision prompted a second protest scheduled to be held at noon Friday at the Elkhart County Health Department.

The description posted on the announcement via Facebook events titled Parents For Our Schools states, “Please gather for a PEACEFUL protest at the Elkhart County Health Department where we convey our desire for our kids to be back in school! We pay the taxes. This is our community. These are our kids!”

A petition also appeared on change.org around 8 p.m. Thursday titled Get Our Kids Back in School. As of press time, the petition was about 300 signatures away from the goal of 1,500 signatures.

The description on the petition was as follows: “It’s time for our children to get back to school! They are being deprived of an actual education and socialization that is necessary for them to grow into self sustaining adults and contributors to society. While bars, big box stores, restaurants, community centers, tattoo parlors, etc. remain open, our children are being deprived of their needs as children. Did schools close because of the flu, lice, West Nile, N1H1? NO

“We are faced with diseases and viruses all of the time. The numbers to back the COVID results are simply not accurate. It’s time to get our kids back to school and extracurricular activities. Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but those of us who are over all of this, we should have a right to choose for our children to get back to some type of normalcy. Enough is enough!”

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