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Students at Elkhart Community Schools will return to school in person fulltime this fall following action taken by the school board on Tuesday.

ELKHART — Plans calls for students at Elkhart Community Schools to be physically back in the classroom full-time this fall.

The school board unanimously approved the district’s reentry plan during Tuesday night’s meeting.

In presenting the plan, Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said the district would reopen all buildings for the 2021-22 school year and all students would return in-person five days a week.

Masks will be optional for students and staff in the buildings, he said, except when an individual is identified as a close contact to an individual with COVID-19, in which case masks and additional precautions will be required.

“As prescribed by the State Department of Health, if a student is designated as a close contact, they have the option of staying home and isolating away from school or they can return to school if they wear a mask and follow precautionary steps,” he said. “But they would not be required to stay home for a certain number of days before returning unless they would develop symptoms or choose not to follow those precautionary measures.”

However, masks will be required on buses at all times, per federal guidelines. This requirement would be lifted or adjusted based on changes to those federal requirements, Thalheimer said.

“If a bus driver is alone on a bus, they don’t have to wear a mask,” he said.

Indiana schools closed statewide in March 2020 and didn’t reopen until the fall. As a precaution, some schools still waited months before reopening for in-person instruction while others offered instruction on a part-time basis for students.

The corporation operated under a hybrid learning model for the majority of the 2020-21 school year where students took two days of in-person instruction in addition to e-learning days. Some students opted to take remote-only schooling. In March this year, the district switched the learning format to four days of in-person instruction.

With the new plan, school officials say they anticipate a normal school year with in-person learning.

“We will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 in our community and will maintain communication with local, state and national agencies,” officials said in the re-entry plan.

Students or staff who test positive for COVID-19 will isolate for at least 10 days from the date of the positive test. Social distancing will be encouraged when possible, school officials said.

The district will continue cleaning strategies to prevent the spread of COVID and display posters and materials that encourage proper handwashing and sanitation.

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