On Tuesday night, the board of the Monroe County Community School Corporation voted unanimously to accept revisions to the district’s re-opening plan proposed by superintendent Judith DeMuth.
A resurgence of COVID-19 cases across the country, state and local region, has led to concerns about the safety of students, teachers and staff.
Highlights of the revisions include a delay to the start for students until Aug. 12.
At that point, instruction will be online-only—at least to start. A re-evaluation of the situation will be done by Sept. 11. Families will get a week’s notice before a change from online instruction.
Teachers will start Aug. 5 and use the time from then until Aug. 12 to prepare for online-only instruction.
Back-and-forth between board member Sue Wanzer and DeMuth during deliberations drew out the fact that the Aug. 12 date could be pushed back even later, depending on the recommendations of a committee that is to be formed.
The committee was the sixth point of the seven-point plan approved by the board on Tuesday. Members of the committee will be drawn from Monroe County’s health department staff, along with “health and science professionals, and educators” who are supposed to produce a community metric that will determine when students can return to in-person instruction.
County health administrator Penny Caudill told board members at Tuesday’s meeting that she does not encourage focussing on a single statistic, like the number of confirmed cases or the positive test rate, because any one number will miss the bigger picture.
The mention of COVID-19 statistics in the revised re-entry plan was a response to calls for that kind of analysis from several quarters in the last several days.
An online petition signed by more than 2,000 people—which also called for a delay to the start of instruction and the use of online-only instruction—called for establishing clear guidelines on “how the district will use local, state, and other reputable data to make decisions for the future.”
A call for a clear explanation of how data will be used in decision making was also part of a press release that was issued Monday morning by four different organizations, including the Indiana Coalition for Public Education — Monroe County.
The statement called on Indiana governor Eric Holcomb, the state’s department of health, and the department of education to develop locally defined metrics that can be used to determine when it is safe to open schools, and when schools should be closed.
Teachers in the district also want formalized guidelines from the county health department for when it is too dangerous for a school to continue with in-school instruction.
The school board’s decision came after hearing from the president of the teachers union. Paul Farmer, president of the Monroe County Education Association, gave the board the results of a survey of the district’s teachers. The survey got responses from 477 of the union’s 546 (87 percent) members.
Of the respondents, 97.5 percent wanted some formalized guidelines from the county health department.
Other highlights from the survey of union teachers included around 80 percent of respondents who said they now feel “a little less safe” or “much less safe” compared to how safe they felt in late June and early July.
Only 24 percent of respondents to the teachers union survey supported the previous re-entry plan, which had options that families could choose: online-only; full-time in-school instruction; and a hybrid.
About 58 percent of survey respondents said they supported at least a two-week delay to the start of school.
Before board members made their decision, they heard from a handful of in-person commenters from the public, and a summary by school board president Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer of several emails they’d been sent as public comments.
Not all the commentary was in favor of a delay, or for online-only instruction. Leading off the in-person public comment was Bruce Thomas, who said, “I’m speaking tonight because I believe students should go back to school this year—in-person, full-time, with minimal restrictions.” He cited the position that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has taken on starting school in the fall.
The AAP position includes the following statement: “We recognize that children learn best when physically present in the classroom. But children get much more than academics at school. They also learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online.”
Board member Keith Klein asked DeMuth about access to healthy meals by students who’d ordinarily get meals from the school cafeteria: “Some of our kids don’t eat, if they’re not in school. …What are we going do about those kids that need us to get food?”
DeMuth responded to Klein by saying, “Our food service people have never stopped since March. They are out in the neighborhoods delivering lunches.” DeMuth reported the district’s head of food services had told her “We’re there for those children and we’ll be there with our food.”
Brandon Shurr wanted to know if support staff would still be paid, mentioning specifically nurses, janitors, and IT workers.
DeMuth said she was checking with the State Board of Accounts about payment of support staff, if they are not used. But she added, “Quite frankly, most people we’ll be able to use in some fashion or another. So our hope is that we pay those people and get quality use out of them in whatever way we can.”
As examples, DeMuth gave delivery of food into neighborhoods. Internet hotspots will be placed in neighborhoods with poor connectivity. Buildings will be open, because teachers will be allowed to deliver their online instruction from wherever they feel comfortable. That means they can use their own classrooms. If there’s traffic in the buildings, they have to be cleaned right away, DeMuth said. And nurses are always on call, DeMuth said.
The next scheduled school board meeting falls on Aug. 25.
Revision to MCCSC reentry plan OK’d by board on July 28, 2020
1. Both students and staff will begin later. Teachers will begin on Aug. 5. Students will begin on Aug. 12. Students and staff will end the school year May 28 before Memorial Day.
2. Teachers will continue preparation for online instruction beginning Aug. 5. Students will begin online instruction on Aug. 12.
3. All students will begin with a classroom teacher as if “in-person” school was beginning. Students will be paired with their teacher to ensure a connection is made. All students will be online. All students will be placed back to their home or transferred to school.
4. Teachers will teach from a location that best meets their needs. Classrooms will be open for their use.
5. The COVID-19 impact on the community will be reevaluated prior to Sept. 11. A change to how instruction will be delivered may be made as a result of this evaluation.
Families will be notified one week prior to a change from online.
Further details will be forthcoming on how students will return in-person.
6. A committee of the Monroe County Health Department along with health and science professionals, and educators will assist in providing a community metric that will determine when students may return to in-person instruction.
7. A team of curriculum experts, principals, parents, and teachers will determine the structure for online instruction. They will also determine a plan for when in-person instruction begins.