JR rice

ELKHART — Although no cases of coronavirus infection have been reported in Elkhart County, local school corporations are still taking extra precautions and making preparations if the situation takes a turn for the worse.

Avon Community School Corp., west of Indianapolis, is the only public school district as of Wednesday to have canceled classes after two students displayed symptoms of the virus, known as COVID-19.

At Elkhart Community Schools, Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said the district is monitoring the situation and listening to the advice of health officials.

“If we were to have a coronavirus in the district, we would work closely with the Elkhart County Health Department and the Indiana State Health Department, and do the necessary reporting and then follow their guidance we regarding what we should do,” Thalheimer told the board Tuesday night.

He said the district has already begun taking precautions by providing extra cleaning supplies at all of its buildings and regularly sanitizing and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects.

The district is also communicating with students, staff and parents about good hygiene and providing other preventative information, he said.

School leaders have also begun conversations about how they need to position themselves to be able to conduct e-learning, Thalheimer said.

Asked how the state will handle missed days due to the coronavirus, Adam Baker, press secretary for the Indiana Department of Education, said schools have the option to offer e-learning days to their students.

These are considered instructional days, and districts determine how they will occur and associated protocols. A waiver may be available, as there is with inclement weather, he said.

“Currently, we are taking this on a school-by-school basis,” Baker said. “We do not want to get ahead of ourselves and have only had one closing.”

According to Thalheimer, the district has moved itself to a position where it’s able to do e-learning, which is described as taking instruction and completing assignments online.

“This is putting us on a faster track that we were expecting to be with our elementary schools because our first e-learning day for elementary was going to be April 1,” he said. “We’re still hoping that holds and that we’ll be fine to do that, but we’re encouraging our elementary buildings to have their families connect with Seesaw as an app that would allow us to communicate with homes.”

However, Thalheimer said he isn’t sure the impact a closure would have on IREAD or ILEARN testing because guidance from the state Department of Education hasn’t come yet.

“We’re trying to position ourselves to continue to learn in some capacity to be able to make up those days at the moment so we’re able to engage students and keep them on track for whatever that testing schedule may look like,” he said. “We’re trying our best to avoid being in the position to where we’ll have to make up days in June at a time when it would be extremely difficult and may run into summer plans for families.”

Concord Community Schools is taking a similar stance with providing preventative measures to avoid the outbreak and plans on using e-learning days if school closures are warranted.

“The safety and well-being of students and staff is of utmost importance, and Concord Community Schools goes beyond requirements to have a registered nurse on staff at every school,” said Interim Superintendent Denise Seger. “Additionally, our custodial staff regularly cleans common touch surfaces thoroughly and follows cleaning protocols using hospital-grade disinfectants.”

In Michigan, health officials have confirmed two people have tested positive for COVID-19 – one from Oakland County and the other from Wayne County.

At Edwardsburg Public Schools, northwest of Elkhart, school officials are working closely with the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Education to prepare for any eventuality.

In the event of a closure, Superindent James Knoll said, the district will use a remote learning approach to deliver instruction to students.

“We understand this may result in a hardship for some students who do not have technology or access to the internet,” he said in a letter to parents. “Please contact your child’s building administrator if you do not have a Chromebook, internet-ready device, or internet access at home. We continue to assess our readiness and develop contingencies for delivering relevant curriculum to your child during this time.”

Edwardsburg Public Schools was encouraging all parents to develop plans now for their children.

“We understand this could prove difficult for many of our families, especially if we are required to close with little advance notice,” he said. “We will evaluate the situation on a daily basis. With the help of the health department, state and local officials, and advice from our families, we will continue to protect and serve our students. As a community, we share responsibility to keep our school district safe and healthy.”

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