Back To School 1

Paige Pobocik, an English teacher at Goshen High School, speaks to the Goshen school board June 29 regarding her concerns about COVID-19 and returning to in-person classes in the fall.

GOSHEN — With the new school year fast approaching, local school corporations are busy putting the finishing touches on their reopening plans as they work to find ways to mitigate the potential impact of the coronavirus on their returning students.

In late June, superintendents from each of Elkhart County’s seven public school corporations issued a joint statement confirming that all public schools in Elkhart County plan to start the new school year in August, and will be offering some combination of both in-school and online classes as part of their reopening plans.

As currently planned, the start dates for each of the county’s seven public school corporations are as follows:

• Goshen Community Schools will start the new school year Aug. 10;

• Concord, Fairfield and Middlebury schools will start classes Aug. 12; and

• Baugo, Elkhart and Wa-Nee schools will start classes Aug. 13.

With the start of the new school year just a few weeks away, a number of area school corporations have now released their tentative reopening plans to the public.

FAIRFIELD SCHOOLS

Among those to have already announced their tentative reopening plans is Fairfield Community Schools.

On June 23, Superintendent Robert Evans issued a letter to FCS families outlining the district’s back to school plans.

“The Indiana Department of Education, in conjunction with the Indiana Department of Health and the Indiana Family and Social Services Agency, released guidance for the reopening of Indiana schools,” Evans said, referencing the IDOE’s 2020-21 COVID-19 reentry guidelines for state schools, titled “Indiana’s Considerations for Learning and Safe Schools,” or IN-CLASS. “Fairfield Schools desires to work with all community members and will continue to share important information as we prepare to welcome your children back to our classrooms.

“The partnership between families and schools is always a key to student success,” he added. “School staff will be receiving professional development on screening student health situations and parents are encouraged to be aware of the health of their students and only send them to school if they are well. Fairfield Community Schools will be starting on Aug. 12 to serve our families with the type of education they desire.”

Evans went on to outline a number of the changes, restrictions and new policies the school corporation will be implementing as part of its reopening plan. They include:

• Asking staff and students to have a mask with them at all times. There may be certain situations when wearing a mask will be needed for both students and staff;

• Requiring students and staff to be fever free for 72 hours without the use of fever reducing medication before returning to school;

• Maximizing instructional space and scheduling flexibility;

• Employing enhanced cleaning procedures with additional hand sanitizer stations;

• Opening playgrounds with separate zones for each class for sanitization purposes;

• Allowing the use of bottle fill stations;

• Adjusting lunches to maximize available open space and utilize alternate scheduling to adhere to safety guidelines;

• Identifying and separating space near school clinics to treat symptomatic students;

• Restricting visitors and guests in school buildings; and

• Discontinuing perfect attendance incentives.

“In conjunction with the Elkhart County Health Department, Fairfield Schools will work with other area schools to have a common response to any confirmed cases of COVID-19, and this ongoing consultation will inform the decisions to keep schools open,” Evan said in concluding his letter. “Thank you again for supporting our schools as we look forward to a safe reopening for the 2020-2021 school year.”

BAUGO SCHOOLS

Byron Sanders, superintendent of Baugo Community Schools, announced his school corporation’s reopening plan in a similar letter to BCS families June 29, noting it is still the school corporation’s intention to begin classes Aug. 13.

“Regardless of the restrictions or guidelines put in place, the only way we will manage this pandemic is to stop the spread,” Sanders said in the letter. “Our reentry plan focuses on the three most important mitigation strategies, which are social distancing, frequent handwashing, and wearing personal protection equipment.”

Sanders noted that behavioral changes and teacher routines will also be changed as a result of the school corporation’s reentry plan.

“Whenever possible, students will be placed in circumstances where masks will not be required, and only in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained will masks be expected,” he said. “Parents should use the time before the start of school to purchase masks that are best for their children. Baugo Community Schools will make up to two reusable masks available to students who do not have them.”

Sanders made a point of noting that, given all the unknowns surrounding the COVID-19 virus, the school corporation will remain flexible and is prepared to modify its reentry plan as circumstances necessitate.

“As always, the health and safety of our students is our first priority,” he said in concluding his letter. “We have developed alternative instructional delivery strategies making distance learning an option when safely attending school is not possible. Until that time, we hope to establish as normal a school experience as possible. Take good care this summer.”

A sample of some of the many changes and new directives the school corporation will be implementing as part of its reentry plan include:

• Parents and employees should self-screen each day for symptoms of COVID-19. Students and employees exhibiting symptoms are prohibited from coming to school and if they come to school, they will be sent home immediately.

• BCS school health professionals will engage in random temperature checks or in situations where there is reason to believe a person may be ill. Whenever possible, BCS will use touch-free thermometers.

• Students will not be required to wear a mask while they are seated at their desks or while eating.

• Employees will not be required to wear a mask when they are alone, eating, or, in the case of teachers, instructing in the front of the classroom provided social distancing is maintained.

• Cafeteria seating will be expanded into other open spaces to reduce concentration of students.

• Directional hallways will be created to keep movement in one direction where possible.

• Tape marks and symbols will be placed on floors and walls to promote social distancing while walking or waiting in line.

To view the full 30-page reopening plan, click here.

WA-NEE SCHOOLS

Wa-Nee Community Schools is the latest public school corporation in the county to announce its reopening plan for the new school year.

Scot Croner, superintendent of WCS, noted in a letter to district families Wednesday that the Elkhart County Board of Health had approved the school corporation’s reentry plan as of Tuesday, officially paving the way for in-person classes to begin Aug. 13.

“Our plan to safely return to school is primarily focused upon identifying and mitigating exposures to COVID-19 before they begin,” Croner said in beginning his letter. “This means starting with the most effective controls and then moving down to those that are less effective. Thus, the number one way we can ensure a safe return will be through the help of our families by staying home when a student is sick, practicing good hygiene, and supporting our safety protocols.”

Croner noted that WCS will be utilizing its student management program, Skyward, to register students for the upcoming 2020-21 school year, with online registration set to begin Wednesday.

“As we move forward together, we are thankful for our community’s continued support as we keep our students’ health and safety in mind,” Croner added. “If you have any questions regarding our reopening plan or need clarification, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

A sample of the directives outlined in Wa-Nee’s reopening plan include:

• Students and employees will be excluded from school if they test positive for COVID-19 or exhibit one or more of the symptoms of COVID-19 based on CDC Guidance that is not otherwise explained.

• Students and employees exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 without being otherwise explained, are prohibited from coming to school, and if they do come to school, a parent/guardian will be immediately notified to transport them home from school.

• The use of face coverings will comply with the recommendation of the Elkhart County Health Department and will be expected only when social distancing cannot occur.

• Students and staff will be provided with three reusable face coverings as well as additional disposable face coverings when needed.

• During all transitions between classrooms, both students and staff will be expected to utilize an approved facial covering.

• Staff will teach and reinforce good hygiene measures such as handwashing, covering coughs, and face coverings to students.

To view the full 27-page reopening plan, click here.

PLANS STILL PENDING

The county’s four remaining public school corporations — Goshen, Concord, Elkhart and Middlebury — are in the process of finalizing their reopening plans.

GOSHEN SCHOOLS

According to GCS Deputy Superintendent Steve Hope, the reopening plan for Goshen Community Schools is scheduled to be presented to the Goshen school board for review during the board’s meeting Monday.

Hope noted the plan will include a number of options for returning students in addition to traditional in-person classes, the particulars of which will be outlined at the meeting.

“Goshen Community Schools will also have a completely online learning option for any parent who wants or needs such an option for their student,” he added of the forthcoming plan. “The online learning option will include live teaching through teleconferencing, self-directed online learning, regular communication with parents and regular access to counseling services.”

CONCORD SCHOOLS

In a statement posted to the Concord Community Schools Facebook page July 2, it was noted that Concord students will be returning for the new school year Aug. 12, though an official back to school plan is still forthcoming.

“Concord Community Schools district leaders have been working closely with other Elkhart County school leaders on a plan for reopening schools this fall,” the post states.

The post goes on to list a couple back to school highlights for returning students, including:

• Students returning to classrooms will do so with procedures approved by the Elkhart County Health Department.

• Online options will be available for students who can not or are uncomfortable returning to school.

“More details about Concord’s specific plan will be shared in the coming weeks,” the post concludes. “Please stay connected via our website and social media. Families will also receive SchoolMessenger calls as additional details are shared.”

ELKHART SCHOOLS

While an official reopening plan has not yet been released for Elkhart Community Schools, the school corporation in a June 24 Facebook post announced it had created a survey seeking input from district families on what they would most like to see when students return for classes.

“Districts around the state and country are beginning to discuss and determine how schools will reopen in Fall 2020,” the post states. “We are seeking the input of as many parents and guardians as possible as we look at what’s best for our school community.”

Participation in the survey officially closed July 2, and the district is now compiling the data to incorporate into its final reentry plan.

MIDDLEBURY SCHOOLS

Middlebury Community Schools is also still in the process of finalizing its reopening plan.

Like Elkhart, Middlebury Community Schools also announced in a June 24 Facebook post that a survey for district families had been created as part of its efforts at crafting a back to school plan.

“We invite you to complete this survey if you have students who attend Middlebury Community Schools,” the post states. “We value your input as we plan for the return to school in the fall.”

Participation in the survey is now closed, and the school corporation is using the data to help finalize its plan.

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.

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