CLARKSVILLE — Students will begin classes at Clarksville Community Schools this week, but after their first day back to school, they will be learning from home for a couple of weeks.

The school district is starting the school year Thursday and Friday with a hybrid schedule involving two blocks of students attending on alternating days. All students will participate in eLearning for the next two weeks.

Students with last names beginning with letters A through K will attend classes in-person Thursday, and students with lasts names L through Z will attend classes Friday.

Clarksville Community Schools is the second school district in Clark County to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic — Greater Clark County Schools began classes last Wednesday.

“We’re doing everything in our power to provide the safest and most conducive environment for education for our students and our staff,” Superintendent Tina Bennett said.

Bennett said the hybrid schedule will allow students to meet their teachers face-to-face before weeks of eLearning, and the district will assess whether to return to in-person classes after the two-week period.

“We’ll look at the data points, we’ll look at any gaps we might have in our re-entry plan, make adjustments, but the ultimate goal is to be back in-person with everyone who chooses to come back fully in-person on [Aug. 24],” she said.

Bennett said she is feeling confident that the proper safety measures are in place for sanitation and social distancing. Hallways at the school are marked with arrows to guide traffic flow and distancing, and masks will be required for students and staff.

“We feel we’ve equipped our teachers with all the necessary [supplies] that they need to make sure their rooms stay cleaned between passing periods and classes and also providing masks for them and for our students,” she said. “So we feel confident that we’re ready to go, particularly since we’re only bringing half of our students back on Thursday, and then the other half will be coming Friday to meet their teachers, get their devices and learn about the protocols of our remote learning.”

As teachers returned to school Tuesday, staff members gave them goodie bags with supplies such as face masks and water bottles.

Jacob Payne, a social studies teacher at Renaissance Academy, said he is ready to "get back on track." 

"At first, I was kind of anxious, but going into it, I feel a lot more comfortable, because our administrative staff and all my other fellow educators are extremely forthcoming in terms of the information they're providing us," he said. 

He will be using Google Classroom for the weeks of eLearning, and he will use video chat sessions so students can interact and collaborate with each other. He likes the idea of getting students back in the classroom for their first day before heading into two weeks of eLearning.

"Especially with our students who are transitioning from middle school, it will be a little bit of face-to-face interaction," Payne said. 

Brian Allred, assistant superintendent for Clarksville Community Schools, said he is excited about the start of the year and feels the district has a “solid” reopening plan.

He is also looking forward to getting started with the virtual academy, which will operate under the same calendar as the traditional classes. Unlike eLearning, the new school will be staffed by a set of teachers completely focused on online instruction.

Thursday also will be the first day for students enrolled in Clarksville Community Schools’ new Indiana Gateway Digital Academy, an online school available to students throughout the state. The district is partnering with K12 Inc. for the virtual academy, which will be a separate school with interactive lessons from certified teachers.

“It’s much different than just logging into a program and having to read through educational modules that don’t have someone teaching you or guiding you — a self-directed approach is what you have for a lot of these situations,” he said. “This is an actual situation where it’s virtual education, because you are actually getting instruction from a certified teacher, but it’s done virtually.”

Students will be able to interact virtually with students and teachers through the Indiana Gateway Digital Academy, Allred said.

“For me, I think it’s a win-win in terms of what we’re trying to do to offer an alternative situation for some of our kids who just really needed this and their parents that really think they need it,” he said.

There are 1,300 to 1,400 students enrolled in Clarksville Community, according to Bennett. The majority of students will be in-person, Allred said. The exact numbers for the virtual academy enrollment have not yet been confirmed.

Assigned seating is one of the new protocols in place at Clarksville Community Schools, Bennett said.

“The purpose of that is to mitigate any unnecessary absences or cancellations of school, because if we have assigned seating, it will be a really good tool for us to get back to the health department for the contact tracing,” she said.

Bennett said she has been learning from Southern Indiana districts that have reopened as they address positive COVID-19 cases in schools. There have been several positive cases identified within Greater Clark since reopening, and four students recently tested positive at Lanesville Junior-Senior High School.

“I think it would be unrealistic for us to assume that we’re not going to have a positive case here or there,” she said. “As far as the other schools and how they’ve been able to mitigate the amount of days they’ve haven’t been able to bring students back or how they’ve had to stop and start already — I’m learning from them, our team is learning from them here. I think the school corporations around us are handling their situations beautifully, and we hope to piggyback on some of the things that they’re doing.”

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