CLARK COUNTY — The Greater Clark County Schools board unanimously voted Monday to modify the school calendar for the remainder of 2020 to safeguard against a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, and was presented with the reopening plan for the semester ahead.
The new calendar includes that students will start school on July 29 through one of three format choices — traditional onsite learning with restrictions or one of two online options.
The first quarter will end Sept. 21.
Oct. 28 will be an eLearning day, as will Oct. 5 through 16, which is fall break. This will allow the students to have only one week of e-Learning the week after Thanksgiving and be off campus from Nov. 20 until January — what some health officials have said could be the time for a second wave of the disease.
The fall break learning will be more flexible, GCCS superintendent Mark Laughner said during the virtual meeting, to allow room for families who may have already planned vacations during that time. The education will be more assignment-driven, with less face-to-face time with teachers required.
“I think it’s a good balance,” board member John Buckwalter said during the meeting.
After a presentation by Laughner at the start of the meeting on the proposed calendar, Karen Wesely, director of Elementary Education with GCCS, presented the board with the return to school plans formed by the committee tasked with doing so.
All of the plans have been discussed with Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel, and all are dependent upon Indiana entering Phase Five of its statewide reopening plan in the coming weeks.
“When we started this process well over a month ago we had three goals — how do we reopen school and keep students and staff safe, how do we still provide options to parents while [providing] quality education to students and how do we keep our enrollment,” Laughner said. “The last thing I want to do as your superintendent is lose enrollment over this and have to lay off teachers.”
Surveys sent to families and staff in May and June asking what they would like to see happen with the return showed that about 40% of families and 50% of certified staff recommended a full return to on-site learning. But there were big enough groups with other first choices that the Greater Clark decided to give them a choice with the fall semester.
Of the more than 2,200 families surveyed, 28% said they would like to have online-only learning until the pandemic is over; 19.6 said they wanted to see a hybrid of on-site learning and eLearning days, and 8.4% said they wanted to have the entire 2020-2021 school year be online.
They’ll get that choice, Wesley said. Families can opt to return to in-person learning, which will still include some eLearning days. They can choose mySchool Online, where they will have daily virtual interactions and be connected to their home campus. This is for families who feel they need a few more weeks or months to return to school. Students can still participate in extracurricular activities with this option.
There are a “lot of situations where waiting...is appropriate,” Wesely said. The third option is for the GCCS Virtual Academy, which the student would be enrolled in for the entire year. This option does not allow for extracurricular activity participation.
Wesely also laid out how the schools will operate in person for safety, and Director of Secondary Education Melissa Bower outlined how sports and music will work.
Students will be screened for temperature before entering GCCS transportation, and if they have a fever and their parents aren’t at the bus stop, they will be transported by school staff to their home or a quarantine area within the school. Surfaces on the buses and within schools will be cleaned regularly, sanitizer will be available and there will be time set aside for frequent hand washing.
Students and staff are encouraged to wear masks when they aren’t social distancing; bus drivers are required to wear them. There will be assigned seats in classrooms and on busses.
With sports and music, it will be re-implemented in three phases, since some sports begin practice before school starts. In the first phase, students will be limited to 15 hours a week on campus to practice, and practice before the season is not mandatory. Parents will be asked to take their children’s temperature each day before practice and they will be screened by coaches. Locker rooms will be closed in the first phase but reopened to 50% in the following phases.
GCCS is expected to unveil a website with comprehensive information on the fall semester in the coming days.