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GOSHEN — Secondary students at Goshen Community Schools will begin a gradual return to mostly in-person classes Sept. 21.

The school board approved a two-week, phased return for students in Grades 6 through 12. That means students in Grades 6, 9 and 10 will return the week of Sept. 21 and Grades 7, 8, 11 and 12 will return Sept. 28.

This summer, GCS implemented a five-course action plan that allows school officials the flexibility to change the course of action depending on the severity of the pandemic.

Following the plan, the school corporation reopened Aug. 10 with its secondary students returning under a Course IV plan and elementary students returning under a less disruptive Course III plan.

During the meeting Tuesday night, Interim Superintendent Steve Hope recommended that secondary students switch to Course III, which allows for more in-person instruction.

When school started four weeks ago, Hope said the county’s positivity rate was hovering between 9 percent and 10 percent, which has now dropped to about 5 percent. He also mentioned that some neighboring districts have been doing in-person classes for all students for a few weeks without much conflict.

“I feel secondary students are ready to change to more in-person instruction,” he said. “I believe our students need to be back in school to meet their social and emotional needs.

“In addition, many students have difficulty logging in to different computer programs, which are necessary for virtual learning,” he said. “I’ve witnessed this firsthand many times during classroom observations.”

Hope also noted difficulties teachers and parents experience with juggling a hybrid schedule and students not receiving the same quality of education as reasons for the course switch.

Under Course IV, only 50 percent of secondary students attend school each day on an alternating schedule and employ an e-learning day for all grades.

Now, under Course III, the entire student body will attend school in-person four days a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays) at normal school hours. Wednesdays will be scheduled for online instruction.

Hope originally proposed a four-week phase-in return to Course III to give school officials time to see if any patterns emerge. If that pattern includes a surge of positive COVID-19 cases, he said officials can make the necessary course change.

“All in all, I think the benefits of being in class every day outweigh the risks,” Hope said.

Under the original plan, freshmen and sixth-graders would return the week of Sept. 14; sophomores and seventh-graders would start the week of Sept. 21; juniors and eighth-graders would start the week of Sept. 28; and seniors would start the week of Oct. 5.

But some board members said they believed a shorter phased-in return would be less disruptive.

“I’m in the mindset that I think delaying it is going to make it worse,” said board president Bradd Weddell. “I hear what we’re hearing from educators, that they’re struggling as it is. We’re hearing from parents how much they’re struggling and we’re just prolonging that.”

Board member Mario Garber suggested postponing the switch to Course III for a week to allow time to see if there’s a possible surge in positive COVID-19 cases following the Labor Day weekend.

Board member Roger Nafziger then responded that if the board does postpone the start of the transition, then he’d suggest shortening the transition period to two weeks instead of four.

The majority of the board members agreed by amending the proposal as such before casting a 4-2 vote to approve the plan.

Board members Amanda Qualls and Jose Elizalde voted against the plan. Board member Felipe Merino was not present.

However, even as GCS plans to move ahead, if the pandemic statistics in Goshen do not support this transition to Course III, then secondary students will stay in Course IV, school officials said.

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