DUNLAP — Concord Community Schools will be transitioning to in-person classes four days per week next month, school officials announced.

The school board on Monday night approved the new learning plan that calls for students to begin attending school in person Mondays through Thursdays, with Fridays scheduled as a virtual learning day.

The change goes into effect starting Monday, Oct. 12.

The district is currently operating under a hybrid plan that allows students to take two days of in-person instruction in addition to e-learning days; some also chose a fully virtual schooling option. Under the hybrid model, students are split into A and B groups. One group will be in the building while the other learns at home.

A fully virtual option will continue to be available to families who do not feel comfortable having their child return to school, school officials said.

Concord Superintendent Dan Funston said the district’s goal to start the school year was to reopen slowly and safely to give students and staff time to adjust to the necessary mitigation efforts and learn procedures that would keep them safe while at school.

But the main goal, he said, has been to return to school fully in person as soon as possible.

“We know that the best place for our students is in school where we can maximize learning and promote positive well-being,” Funston said.

Due in large part to the diligence of staff, students and families, Funston said Concord is now in a place where school leaders feel comfortable returning to school more fully in person.

“We continue to track state, local and our own data related to positive COVID-19 cases, community spread and quarantined individuals, and believe that as long as we continue our mitigation efforts we will be able to support student learning in a more in-person format,” he said.

Students and staff will continue to be required to wear face masks and engage in social distancing.

“In the hybrid model, we were able to socially distance to a greater extent than will be possible when we return fully in person,” he said. “That said, our building leaders, custodial staff, and others have worked hard to come up with solutions to keep students and staff as safe as possible. We will continue to enforce our mask policy, knowing that masks have been shown as one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

One parent, Kayla Johnson, said although she believes it’s time for families to get back into a more normal routine, she’s happy the district still allowed a virtual-only option for families who are still skeptical about an in-person move.

Her son, Grady Johnson, a fourth-grader at Concord Ox Bow, is enrolled in the district’s virtual-only instruction, which he will continue for the remainder of the semester, Kayla said.

“Our major concern is that the cold and flu season isn’t too far away,” she said. “In my opinion, as a parent, figuring out what is a cold and what is COVID is very challenging. I worry about how they will handle kids coming into school sick and/or having to stay home for something minor.”

Another parent, Erin Kohles, said she’s excited for her sons to go back to school four days a week. Her boys, Cameron Schrock, a first-grader, and Landon Schrock, a fourth-grader, are enrolled in the hybrid model at Concord Ox Bow.

“Seeing how well the school has done so far with keeping the kids safe makes me very comfortable about them going back,” Kohles said. “The kids need interaction with teachers and their classmates. My kids were so excited when I told them the news, they are happy to be able to see all their friends in one place again.”

Laura Livrone, president of Concord Teachers Association and English teacher, said she was pleased that Concord's plan continues to evolve in a measured and data-driven manner. She also said she is confident the district will continue to employ safety strategies while also attending to the academic, social and emotional needs of students.

“Teaching and learning in a pandemic is challenging, so any plan presents complications, but I look forward to being in the classroom with my students more frequently in a few weeks,” she said. “I also look forward to continued collaboration between employees and our administration and school board as the situation develops.”

In the coming weeks, Funston said the district will closely monitor guidance from health officials. The in-person return is contingent in part upon Elkhart County remaining in “blue” (minimal community spread) or “yellow” ( moderate community spread) status on the Indiana State Department of Health dashboard, he said.

If the county enters the “orange” (moderate to high community spread) or “red” (high community spread) category, Funston said the district will pause its plans to reopen more fully in person.

“We have 20 individuals in our district who are trained in contact tracing,” he said. “If we learn of a confirmed COVID-19 case, those individuals immediately begin checking seating charts and student schedules to determine if there were any close contacts who must quarantine. The Elkhart County Health Department has committed to supporting this effort by providing a contact tracer who will assist Concord Community Schools.”

If the district experiences a situation where several confirmed COVID-19 cases arise in one classroom, Funston said that the classroom could shift to the virtual model for a short period. And, if there’s an influx of COVID-19 cases across several grade levels in the same building, the district would follow a similar protocol, he said.

“We are committed to keeping the safety of students and staff at the forefront and will take the necessary steps to ensure that we are meeting that commitment,” he said.

The deadline for parents to request a switch between learning modes is Friday, Oct. 2.

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