ELKHART — As the school year approaches, local school corporations have released tentative plans that define procedures for reopening its schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendents from each of Elkhart County’s seven public school corporations issued a joint statement in June that said all the county’s public schools plan on starting on their scheduled date in August and will be offering both in-school and online classes as part of their reopening plans.
Some of the general guidelines each school will be following include wearing masks, frequently sanitizing surfaces and social distancing procedures.
Below are the tentative plans that were issued by each district.
Middlebury Community Schools
Middlebury Community Schools is the latest school corporation in the area to announce its reopen plans for the upcoming school year.
Following approval from the district’s school board on Tuesday, Middlebury will offer traditional face-to-face, in-school instruction for students who can return to school as well as a virtual instruction only.
According to the plan, in-school instruction will be five days per week and regular school day times. A 100 percent remote/virtual option will be teacher-directed instruction using live-streaming and/or video recorded instruction for students with risk factors or those who have chosen to learn virtually.
Those in grades 6-12 who choose to do virtual learning will have an additional option of blended learning which is 100 percent virtual self-paced non-teacher directed instruction.
A parent survey was conducted, and of the 2,537 families who responded, 89.4 percent said they plan to send their students back to a traditional in-person school with necessary protocols and practices in place; 8.8 percent said they plan to enroll their student in a virtual school model regardless of the protocols and practices in place for a traditional school; and 1.6 percent said they plan to unenroll their student from MCS and homeschool their student.
Each student will be provided with one washable, reusable cloth mask. Students will be able to remove masks when seated at their desks when permitted by their teacher. Masks must be worn by students and staff within 6 feet of other students, staff, on buses, in hallways and common areas.
Parents/guardians must take their child’s temperature before school. If a child has a temperature of 100.4 or higher, he or she must be kept home. A child may return to school after 72 hours without a fever without fever-reducing medicine.
The district will provide a separate isolation area for students and staff who display COVID-19 symptoms, including fever. Students in this area will wear masks and maintain a minimum of 6 feet distance between each other. Parents/guardians will be expected to pick up children within an hour.
"We followed the guidelines of the Indiana Department of Education, the Indiana State Department of Health, the Elkhart County Health Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Gov. Eric Holcomb to make sure safety precautions were possible within our school buildings," said Superintendent Jane Allen. "We think our plan best meets the needs of all stakeholders by creating the safest possible in-person school environment and by allowing parents to choose a virtual option."
Parents must select their child’s education option by July 31. Registration is available on the district’s website.
Middlebury Community Schools will reopen on Aug. 12.
Wa-Nee Community Schools
Wa-Nee Community Schools will resume in-person instruction following approval from the Elkhart County Board of Health this month.
“Our plan to safely return to school is primarily focused upon identifying and mitigating exposures to COVID-19 before they begin,” Superintendent Scot Croner said in a letter to families. “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.”
In the letter, Croner said the district will be utilizing its student management program, Skyward, to register students for the upcoming 2020-21 school year, with online
A remote-learning option will also be offered to students. Parents interested in registering their child in the remote learning instruction must do so by Friday. After Friday, the only option for registration will be in-person learning.
Some highlights from the district’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.
• Students and staff will be provided with three reusable face coverings as well as additional disposable face coverings when needed. The use of masks will be required only when social distancing isn’t feasible.
• Staff will promote behaviors and use of personal hand sanitizer to reduce the spread of germs and support school building education regarding these behaviors
Wa-Nee Community Schools will reopen on Aug. 13
Baugo Community Schools
Baugo Community Schools is planning to return to in-person instruction next month after considering guidance from the Indiana Department of Education, state and local health departments and other local guidance within or out of the district, according to school officials.
“Regardless of the restrictions or guidelines put in place, the only way we will manage this pandemic is to stop the spread,” Superintendent Byron Sanders said in the letter to families. “Our reentry plan focuses on the three most important mitigation strategies, which are social distancing, frequent handwashing, and wearing personal protection equipment.”
According to the plan, the district will provide every student and staff member with two reusable masks and whenever possible provide additional masks to be purchased. Every student must wear a mask when they are not seated at a desk and employees must wear one unless they are providing direct instruction from the front of a classroom.
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, the plan states.
Tape marks and symbols will be placed on floors and walls to promote social distancing while walking or waiting in line.
But as the virus continues to evolve, Sanders said the district’s plans for reopening could be revised.
“Baugo Community Schools will continue to seek guidance from state and local officials and legal council to review and revise this plan to keep our schools safe,” Sanders said.
Baugo Community Schools will reopen on Aug. 13.
Fairfield Community Schools
Fairfield Community Schools plans on returning to a classroom setting and will offer a full-time distance learning option for students next month.
For in-person learning, the district asks 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.
Students and staff will also be required to be fever-free for 72 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication before returning to school.
Other requirements include maximizing instructional space and scheduling flexibility, enhanced sanitation and cleaning procedures, restrict visitors and guests in school buildings and adjust lunches to maximize available open space.
With distance learning, elementary students must receive at least 5 hours of daily instruction and secondary students must receive at least 6 hours of daily instruction. Although distance learning can be less than these times (to account for passing periods, transitions, restroom breaks, etc.), there is an expectation that distance learning will mirror in-person instruction. Distance learning for grades K-6 will be expected to take 3-3.5 hours to complete each day. Distance learning for grades 7-12 will be expected to take 4-4.5 hours to complete each day, the plan states.
“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,” Superintendent Robert Evans said in a letter to families.
Fairfield Community Schools will reopen on Aug. 12
Elkhart Community Schools
Elkhart Community Schools will follow a “hybrid” plan that offers some face-to-face, in-school instruction for students who can return to school and the other offers virtual instruction only.
The in-school instruction option will be two days per week: Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the days when students aren’t physically attending school, they will be expected to complete e-learning activities. Fridays will be a designated e-learning day for all students in grades K-12, Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said in introducing the plan.
An online learning plan will be available for students with risk-factor health issues or those who have made the choice to learn virtually.
Thalheimer said the ECS planning guide was created using the guidance and expertise of several state and national resources, as well as a staff survey completed by 1,037 participants and a parent/guardian survey completed by 2,350 families representing 4,135 students.
The district will provide two free washable masks to every student. Masks will be required on buses, when entering and exiting the school building when picking up food in the cafeteria line and during passing periods.
Within classrooms, student desks will be facing the same direction. Students will be discouraged from actively moving around the classrooms unless instructed by a teacher. If students can be seated 6 feet apart, they will be allowed to remove masks if they choose to do so.
Students will also be allowed to keep their masks on if they choose to do so unless specifically instructed otherwise by a teacher or staff member. If students engage in small-group work or discussion, they will be required to wear masks.
Teachers will use outdoor spaces as weather permits and large spaces, such as a gym or auditorium, when possible. Masks will not be required in spaces that are outdoors or with ample room for social distancing. Students will be discouraged from sharing personal items, such as pencils, crayons, markers, notebooks and iPads. Parents are asked to label items when possible.
Students who ride buses will have assigned seats and will be seated two students per seat at most. Siblings will be asked to sit together.
In the cafeteria, elementary students will have designated areas where they may eat with their class. Students will be distanced and allowed to remove their masks to eat. Middle school and high school students will be expected to socially distance. Hand sanitizers will be provided at each of the tables, school officials said.
Parents and guardians were emailed a selection form asking whether they intend on sending their child back to school for some in-person instruction or online. Responses are due July 28.
Elkhart Community Schools will reopen Aug. 13
Goshen Community Schools
Goshen Community Schools will offer a five-course plan, starting at course three. The district may move to another course should the need arise.
Under course three, elementary students who return to school will attend five days a week from 7:50 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Art, music and physical education will all be conducted online. Meanwhile, the middle school and high school will conduct in-school instruction four days a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays) at normal school hours. Wednesdays will be scheduled for online instruction, the district said.
Students who are unable to attend in-person due to health issues will attend Goshen Connections Academy online or virtually five days a week.
Staff and students will wear masks or face shields, which will be provided by the district. Students who cannot or will not wear a mask or face shield will need to utilize the online learning option.
The district plans on practicing social distancing as much as possible, school officials said. Due to the size of the corporation’s student body and facilities, it will not always be possible. In classrooms, student seating may be arranged to all face in the same direction when possible and will be spread as far apart as possible.
Visitors will be limited in the buildings and lunches will be adjusted to maximize available open space to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
If the GCS has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the district will follow directions from the Elkhart County Health Department.
“This may include closing a classroom, a section of the school, or an entire school for a period and shifting quickly to e-learning at home for students who are impacted,” the district said. “Many of our new procedures are designed to support contact tracing should a confirmed case occur. This will assist the Elkhart County Health Department with quickly identifying and contacting individuals who may have been exposed.”
Goshen Community Schools will reopen on Aug. 10.
Concord Community Schools
Concord Community Schools released its reopening plan on Monday and will follow a similar approach to Elkhart Schools by offering a “hybrid” plan that allows students to take two days of in-person instruction in addition to e-learning days or they can choose a virtual-instruction-only option.
Under the hybrid model, half of the Concord students will take classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, while the other half will go back on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays will be designated e-learning days for all grades, according to the district’s plan.
A 100 percent virtual learning option is available for students who are high risk or for families that do not feel safe or comfortable returning to learning in person. District teachers will be specifically assigned to virtual students for individualized instruction in a virtual setting.
“Should the spread of COVID-19 in our community worsen, we are prepared to move to a fully virtual learning experience for all students until it is safe to return to our hybrid plan,” the district said.
All students and staff will be required to wear face masks when social distancing is not possible. Two reusable face masks will be provided for each student and staff member.
Following the board’s decision, families were sent a student learning selection form asking them to select a learning option for their child, as well as questions about transportation, before/after school care, and more. The form must be completed by midnight on Friday.
Concord Community Schools will reopen on Aug. 12.