GOSHEN — Goshen school board members on Monday amended the school corporation’s fall reopening plan to allow for more stringent safety measures for its secondary students.
At the July 13 board meeting, the school corporation introduced a five-course action plan beginning with the least disruptive plan at Course I to the most disruptive at Course V. At the time, school officials recommended the district’s entire student body, Grades K-12, reopen under Course III.
Under Course III, 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 would 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.
But since the plan was introduced, Interim Superintendent Steve Hope said the number of positive cases in the area has continued to surge prompting school leadership to alter its original plans.
“At the secondary level, where our students are greater carriers of the virus, it makes sense for us to decrease the number of students in the building temporarily,” Hope said. “Secondary students are also better able to take care of themselves and manage the requirements of e-learning.”
To that end, Hope recommended the district’s elementary students, Grades K-5, return to school under Course III, while changing the status for students at the secondary level, Grades 6-12, by having them return to school under Course IV.
Under Course IV, only 50 percent of students attend school each day on an alternating schedule and employ an e-learning day for all grades.
“Course IV allows us to establish an in-person relationship and an online routine,” said Hope. “If the number of cases continues to drop, then we hope to move Course IV to Course III, but if the number of cases continues to rise, then we would move on to Course V.”
However, Hope noted that if the number of positive cases for the coronavirus continues to increase prohibiting the district from starting with live instruction on Aug. 10, then he’d recommend the district delay its start date by one day and return on Tuesday, Aug. 11.
“Having GCS start on Tuesday, Aug. 11 will allow us at least an additional planning day and to get devices out to parents,” he said. “A makeup day would be Friday, Jan. 15.”
Online learning will be available for students with risk-factor health issues or those who have immediate family members with health issues.
A parent survey was conducted, and of the 4,200 families who responded, Hope said nearly 70 percent indicated that they want their students to return to school.
“For many of our parents, the reopening of school means economic stability,” he said. “GCS serves as a vital role in the lives of many families allowing them to maintain employment and thrive economically.”
Much like parents, most teachers also favor a return to school, Hope said. However, for those with medical conditions, a return could be detrimental, he said.
“Teachers will also have an option and I believe we will be able to work with every teacher who wants to work online and accommodate them,” he said.
School board president Bradd Weddell asked what would determine whether it’s safe for the district to return to Course III for all students. Hope said Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz recommended holding off on a decision until the county sees a decline in positive COVID-19 cases for at least 14 consecutive days.
In the end, the school board approved the plan on a 5-1 with board member Mario Garber casting the lone dissenting vote. Board member Felipe Merino was not present.
Board member Amanda Qualls commended the administration and the community for their part in helping to establish the district’s plan during unprecedented times.
“Everyone that I’ve talked to realizes that this is a no-win situation,” she said. “No plan is perfect. And I appreciate that recognition while also trying to synthesize all the feedback to make a decision.”