SOUTHERN INDIANA — Mask policies, instructional options and reconfiguration of classrooms are among the factors Southern Indiana schools are considering in their reopening plans.
As students prepare to head back to class, local schools are weighing their options for health and safety protocols for the school year ahead. The News and Tribune spoke to several Southern Indiana charter and private schools about their plans to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barbara Burke Fondren, director of Community Montessori in New Albany, said the charter school intends to offer hybrid instructional options for students. The school has surveyed families about their preferred options for the school year, and the plan will be presented to the school’s board of directors Tuesday for approval.
According to the proposed plan, half of the students would attend school in-person, while the other half would learn at home, at least for the start of the school year. A “family support program” will allow some students to attend five days a week, while others might attend only two or three days a week.
For students completing off-campus instruction, they might join the whole class in a video meeting or watch a video of a lesson, and the school will use Google Classroom for certain assignments. Plans will look different depending on the age level, and, Fondren noted, instructional protocols will become “less restrictive or more restrictive” depending on what is happening with the COVID-19 pandemic on a state and local level.
“I really feel like starting with a hybrid model will help put in place strong protocols and practices for safety and sanitation, and I feel like we would do best if we don’t have everyone in there on day one,” she said.
Community Montessori’s plan proposes that both students and staff will be required to wear face masks. The school’s studios, or classroom spaces, will be altered so there is more room for students to keep their distance. Sidewalks have also been added outside the studios so students can enter and leave through the doors, which will help keep students within the same groups and avoid larger gatherings.
At Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, students will have an alternating instructional schedule at the start of the school year to practice a hybrid model in case it is needed in the future. Freshman and sophomores will be in class on separate days from the juniors and seniors. On the days when a group is not at school, they will be participating in eLearning.
By mid-August, the current plan is to switch back to in-person learning, according to Christa Hoyland, Providence’s director of communications. Students will begin school Aug. 5. Although there will be options for students to participate in eLearning if they are sick, the school is not planning to offer a virtual school, she said.
Masks will be required for students and staff, Hoyland said. Providence will also provide small class sizes and space to allow students and staff to maintain social distancing. The facility will be cleaned and sanitized regularly. Certain spaces that served as large gathering spaces will be divided and used for classrooms for classes that need additional space for social distancing.
Christian Academy of Indiana in New Albany has outlined a number of plans for in-person instruction, according to Monica Allison, the school’s elementary principal. A task force with key players at the school has been brainstorming “every aspect of what the day needs to look like” when students return, she said.
Face coverings will be strongly recommended for students and required for staff when social distancing cannot be maintained, and the school nurse is preparing to train faculty and staff to be able to identify COVID-19 symptoms, Allison said.
Students will return to Christian Academy of Indiana July 21. The school is exploring the possibility of offering virtual options in addition to in-person instruction, but there has not been a final decision whether there will be an alternate online option. If schools are forced to close again, teachers will be ready to switch to non-traditional instruction, she said.
The school will conduct temperature checks of students as they arrive in the morning through the car line, and students will go directly to their classrooms in the morning.
Christian Academy is encouraging teachers to take students outside as much as possible for instruction or to eat lunch, Allison said. Elementary students will eat lunch inside their classrooms, and the school will not allow any outside visitors in the building.
“It will obviously look a little different than what it has in the past, but our families are ready to come back to school and get back into their routine,” she said. “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from families (on the reopening plan).”