DUNLAP — For Vanessa Velie, returning to her classroom at Concord East Side Elementary School in August after a six-month hiatus would be ideal.

But after reviewing Concord Community Schools’ recently released reopening plan – which will offer part-time, in-person instruction as an option – the third-grade teacher is worried that social distancing won’t be feasible in classrooms and the overall safety of staff and students amid surges in COVID-19 cases.

“I’m in fear of not knowing what to do when the whole system crashes and everyone ends up getting (the coronavirus),” Velie told the school board at Monday’s meeting. “High-schoolers are at a higher rate of getting it right now in our county, so to put them all in a great fishbowl together seems a little strange to me.”

By a unanimous vote, the school board on Monday night approved 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.

Newly appointed Superintendent Dan Funston, who stepped into the role on July 1, said the top three priorities the district officials paid close attention to when creating their reopening blueprint was the well-being of students, staff and the community.

“We know that our students are best served when they’re in the school, especially our young kids,” he said, “when they’re able to see a teacher and we’re able to do those well checks and provide the services that we know goes beyond academics in providing for our students.

“Also want to make sure that we’re paying special attention to the well-being of our staff – this includes classified staff and all of our staff. So we believe that while not perfect, we have laid out a blueprint here that pays special consideration to those things.”

The plan is similar to an approach taken by Elkhart Community Schools, which was approved by the district’s school board last week, where students can take entirely virtual classes or receive some face-to-face classroom instruction.

Under the two days of classroom instruction option, 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.

Nearly a dozen parents and teachers alike spoke out during the public-comment session of the school board meeting, the majority of which shared a sentiment similar to Velie’s.

In addition, some teachers say they are nervous about returning because of concerns about infecting family members. Others expressed frustration by the lack of clear guidance from officials about preparing for returning to school. And for some, it’s about child care if their students are back at school only a portion of the week.

Jami Brouillette, a third-grade teacher at Concord East Side, has two children at East Side; one going into second grade and the other in fourth. She said balancing her schedule as a teacher and a parent under the district’s plan is going to create havoc, which she suspects will be a similar dilemma for other working parents.

“As a parent, if my only option is to send my kids for two days a week and then I’m supposed to somehow juggle my schedule to now having to be a teacher for the other three days, I don’t see how a) that’s going to happen and b) how that’s going to provide my kids or students any sense of normalcy or routine,” she said.

“I don’t want to quit my job, but I honestly don’t know how you can expect parents to do this,” she told the board. “Where will the students go those other three days? If it’s not safe for them to come to school, then where will they go? Do you honestly think that all these parents are going to be able to quit their jobs and stay home? Because I don’t.”

Following Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 schools, the district is addressing the community spread of the coronavirus at the district in three levels.

• Low/no spread is the traditional plan with schools open and following preventive practices.

• Minimal/moderate spread could be traditional, full distance/remote learning, or a hybrid of the two, which would have limited or staggered use of buildings and alternating schedules.

• Substantial spread would mean going back to distance/remote learning with either targeted closure, short-term closure or extended closure.

Of the three categories, Concord has opted to align its hybrid plan with the minimal/moderate spread category.

“The heart of this plan is the idea of social distancing,” Funston said. “We believe that by splitting our student body in half that as a school we’ll be much more able to social distance than if every student showed up on day one.”

Each student and staff member will receive two cloth masks at no cost. Per mandate of the Elkhart County Health Department, upon entering the building, students will wear a mask except when seated at their desks (only if they can properly social distance) or eating. Students will be required to wear a mask while at school except when they are seated in their classroom and able to social distance, the plan states.

Terry Schoenherr said his wife, who’s a teacher at Concord Junior High School, has a compromised immune system and believes masks should be worn at all times to help limit the chances of spreading the virus.

“I would like to see a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to wearing masks in school, meaning if you’re not wearing a mask you’re not here,” he said. “It’s been proven by the CDC that masks are a huge deterrence in spreading this virus. So for me, that’s very important.”

Lani Kieft, a parent and teacher at Concord East Side, said she doesn’t believe the in-person option offers adequate safety for students and expressed support for the virtual-only instruction.

“As a teacher, we know what goes on in the building,” she told the board. “My husband is also a teacher and there’s no way we would put our children at risk of sending them to school right now. As much as we love our teachers and our school, I can’t take that risk with my precious child. So, I want you to know that a vast majority of teachers are not sending their kids to school for good reason and that’s something that should be a red flag for all of us.”

She also voiced concern about a back-up plan should the virus spread across the school buildings.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s when,” she said of the potential spread. “We know by data that things are going to happen. I know my kids are going to be home safe because luckily I have that choice. But if we lose one precious child or staff member, that’s too many. And if we have to live with the fact that we went forward with a plan that’s too dangerous, that’s going to be a big problem.”

Laura Livrone, president of the Concord Teachers Association, expressed her appreciation to the school board and administrative team for their hard work in developing what she believes will be a viable plan for returning to school this fall.

“A lot of people are not going to like the plan, no matter what the plan is,” she said. "From a teacher’s point of view, of course, we want what’s best for our kids, but we’re also concerned about safety. It’s also a practical matter. If we can keep our teachers and our kids well, then things won’t fall apart. I tell teachers every time I get the chance that they can’t work as hard as they did in the spring. The virtual option is going to be better than it was in the spring, but we have to take care of ourselves because now we’re going to be out in the world and we can’t be worn down when we’re in the world where COVID-19 exists.”

After the public-comment segment, Funston thanked everyone who spoke for their feedback. He also emphasized that the district will continue to work with local health and state officials as well as neighboring districts to evaluate the conditions in Elkhart County and make adjustments to the plan as needed.

“We will be revisiting this more as a cabinet, and things can change daily,” he said. “While right now we’re going under the (minimal/moderate spread) category (County Health Officer) Dr. Lydia Mertz has said she will give us better information in terms of what category we should be under at the end of July, so nothing is final.”

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 plans on reopening on Aug. 12.

(24) comments

Peppery

I posted on here early this morning with some arguments for reopening schools. I now see it's gone. Is this the removal of our freedom of speech? If it doesn't agree with what certain people/establishments want to be heard they just remove it? Cancel culture!

FlyNavy

Someone is paranoid. New sign in for Sidearm?

Peppery

The spread of covid 19 by children is almost non existent. It has shown to be less harmful to children than the common flu. Children that have tested positive for covid are mostly asymptomatic and cannot spread the virus. This has all been politicized to instill fear. I have 2 children in grade school and would not hesitate to send them back full time. This virtual learning and home lockdown has hurt them far more than I feel covid ever will.

Joe King

your opinion does not match health care and scientist statements. Children can catch and spread the virus just like any other human being can. There are numerous reports and cases of kids bringing the virus home and family members catching and dying from it.

Leeet

Pepper......Must be TRUE....FOXNews Says SO.......facts please...................

sidearm

They are going to hate you here sir. They want the schools closed not for the safety of students but so that the parents can’t go back to work. The teachers union is all in for socialist agenda of the Dems who they support wiyj yields dues from all who join the union.

Peppery

Yeah I'm used to that. They believe Fauci, the CDC and the WHO. Although they have been wrong time and time again.

FlyNavy

It is obvious that ignorance is spreading faster than the virus.

Joe King

Tell that to the 4,500,000 Americans diagnosed with Covid 19. Tell that to the over 150,000 american families that have lost someone. Tell that to Herman Cain's family....Were in the middle of a pandemic...start acting like it.

Joe King

"They believe Fauci, the CDC and the WHO"...Just the smart ones apparently....

Joe King

the GOP wants protections for schools and business in case a worker gets sick or dies they can't sue.... Which means they have no incentive to take all safe precautions and methods.. Take away those protections and allow workers to sue and I bet they will do online teaching until a vaccine is available.

fire111

When I quit 5 years ago I Made $14.35 + single paid health insurance. I doubt there is any increase in hourly pay. You have no bargaining rights as a custodian.

sidearm

So Leet, now you are talking about pay instead of risk, two totally different things. I would rather be teaching 20 young people than working in a hospital around sick people or sweating my butt off in any factory with 50 other people sweating all around me. But if you want to talk teachers pay, I agree, they don’t make enough money, period.

Leeet

Sidearm, how long since you were in a (one-room) school? Today's Teacher has 5-6 30+ students per class. They work closer (and sweat) with their students than any co-workers do in any factory. 150+ different family/environments/day.....

fire111

No evidence the virus can be spread by sweat!

sidearm

My Grandaughter is a teacher, class size is 23. Second graders don’t do a lot of sweating in the air conditioned room. I get it that you want school delayed until after the election so parents can’t go back to work. Using school children as political pawns is disgusting. The teachers union’s don’t want to go back for the same political reasons. You people are disgusting and un- American.

MrAmishMan88

If teachers don't want to work & do their jobs then fine not much we can do about it, but many people have been working through all this with more high risk jobs than teachers. Also please cancel the extra taxes we have been paying for school upgrades since they won't be needing them anymore. Also every household should get a tax refund back for everything we have already contributed.

Leeet

Mr Amish. Please tell us about these jobs with higher risks and how does their pay compare to Teachers'?

sidearm

How about grocery store clerks, production workers, hospital staff, just about anybody working. I am not minimizing risks to teachers but you asked.

,

DingFod

And remember most jobs you are working with ADULTS who should be acting like adults, safely and intelligently....Teaching is the only profession where you are working with kids, who act like kids in a 20x20 space..... Without teachers, none of us would be where we are today.... Somebody needs a reality check.....

Leeet

Yes, Sidearm, I asked....and you didn't answer. How does 'casual' contact at a grocery store compare with 30+ individuals closer than 6 feet apart conversing in a closed room for an hour+? How does Teacher pay compare to RV factory worker's pay? Doctors and Nurses? Hospital Custodians for that matter?

fire111

I don't know what pay scale you go by for teacher pay! But! gateway. ifionline.org will tell the story. Go there. Choose 2019 as the year, then choose Elkhart county. Then in the drop box choose Elkhart Community Schools. It lists EVERY employee from custodians to the head man, and their total pay for 2019. There are 59 pages full of names and jobs and positions and pay. I went through the 1st 10 pages. The names are listed alphabetically. Not by job. All teachers are listed. I say the 10 pages would be a very good representation of all 59 pages. Now teachers work 180 days + prep days before school starts in the fall and closing days in the spring. I gave them a 10 day! 1800 hours! Average hourly pay... almost $31.50 an hour plus benefits. Not bad for 180 days work. And 10-12 weeks vaca!

DingFod

You'd think with teaching being so lucrative, people would be lining up to be one....

So, this is another instance of if you haven't done it, you surely don't understand it.

Maybe you don't understand that many teachers pay upwards of 600.00+ a month just to have insurance, or that many of the things they use in the classroom are paid for out of their pocket. Tell me Fire, how many of the supplies you used on your job did you pay for out of the goodness of your heart to benefit others?

Leeet

Fire, how much do custodians at Northridge schools make per hour?

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