HCCSC School Board accepts the comprehensive school re-entry plan

The Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees approved the administration’s comprehensive school re-entry plan at its regular meeting Monday, July 20, in a standing-room only board room in which most of the occupants wore masks. The vote was 6-0 with Board Member Brian Warpup abstaining.

The plan is much the same as Superintendant Chad Daugherty had described in previous board meetings, taking input from several sources including other school districts, the county Board of Health, Parkview Huntington Hospital, the Huntington Classroom Teachers Association and parents of HCCSC students.

Daugherty said the state has opted to allow individual districts to make their own re-entry policies. HCCSC  administrators looked at all the data and input when they formed the re-entry plan to make sure that students and staff are safe. But he added it’s not set in stone.

“The plan we’re presenting this evening is a very fluid plan,” he said. “This could change in the next two weeks, so it will look very different.”
HCCSC’s plan calls for students to be socially distant in classrooms and wear masks in situations in which that distancing is not possible. Daugherty said each student will receive a mask.

Other provisions of the plan include:

• Students and staff are required to have a mask with them at all times.

• Families must screen their children and keep them home if ill. Sick children will be directed immediately upon arrival to the clinic assistant, who will require the student to be picked up if exhibiting symptoms.

• There will be a divided clinic, with one area for students displaying symptoms and another area for medication distribution and other services.

• Hand washing will be required throughout the day, and additional hand sanitizer will be available in each classroom.

• Students will be allowed to carry water bottles. All drinking fountains will be unavailable, but a water station will allow them to refill their bottles.

• Professional development will be provided to all staff at the start of the school year on symptoms and screening measures.

• Deliveries, including food, will not be permitted for students or staff during the school day.

• Outside groups will not be permitted in buildings until further notice.

Other changes to the classroom and school environment include:

• No Back-to-School or open house events.

• Student events will require masks or social distancing.

• More personal space created in classrooms.

• Students will be required to immediately report to classrooms upon entering the school building and will not be allowed ton congregate inhallways or common areas.

• Sharing of supplies will be minimized, such as art materials.

• No visitors for lunch.

• K-5 classes will sit together at lunch.

• Seating charts will be used in cafeterias.

• Physical education lessons will include steps to reduce the potential of cross-contamination.

• Students will not be required to dress for P.E. to minimize locker room interactions.

• K-5 classes will stay together at recess.

• Plexiglas barriers will be installed in front offices.

• Additional time will be built into schedules for band, choir and related arts to clean in between classes and will encourage outside activities and social distancing as much as possible.

• No external field trips or convocations until further notice. However, on-campus outdoor learning classrooms are permitted.

• Visitors and guests who must enter the school will be limited to the main office and must wear a mask.

• Volunteers will not be scheduled until further notice.

• Facility usage by groups outside HCCSC has been suspended.

Daugherty also said so far, 84 students at the high school have been signed up for the Virtual Option, with 17 coming from outside the district. However, they will only be allowed to switch back to the Traditional Option one time, he added. They will also not be allowed to participate in person for extracurricular activities.

The deadline to enroll students in the Virtual Option is Friday, July 24.

Huntington County Public Health Nurse Emily Satterthwaite told the board that the county’s low COVID-19 infection rate has mitigated returning students back to school. She said socially distancing students with the plan presented will properly protect them while they are back inside school buildings.

She added that if COVID-19 cases inside schools or absences become unusually high schools may need to be shut down.

 “If we do have a student that becomes positive, it’s a possibility that we would only have to close a classroom for a couple of days to clean it, instead of closing a whole school,” she said. “It’s not only important to keep our students healthy, but it’s important to keep them on the right track.”

Students who are quarantined will continue their education through eLearning and teachers will put lessons on Canvas for them to keep up with the class.

HCCSC Food Service, Maintenance and Transportation department directors also spoke about their roles in facilitating the re-entry when students return to class on Aug. 5.

Transportation Director Vanessa Fields said students will be required to wear masks on board buses and siblings in the same household will sit together in assigned seats, with as much social distancing as possible. Students will also be picked up and dropped off from the same locations. There will be some masks available on buses for students who forget to wear one.

Huntington County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Ringenberg expressed his support of the district’s re-entry plan, saying the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that kids should be back in school.

He suggested the corporation look into purchasing infra-red thermometers, which do not have to touch a person in order to read their temperature. He recommended putting them in classrooms.

“If a teacher has a question as to whether or not a student is sick, they can do it (take their temperature) right there quickly,” he added. “And I think each teacher needs to have some extra masks, because as you well know, they (students) are not going to come to school with their masks sometimes. They’re going to forget them and you need to have somewhat of a supply for each teacher in their classroom.”

Ringenberg also suggested using clean-air machines in close-contact classrooms, such as the choir room, which have a high respiration exposure.

However, the re-entry plan did not sit well with everyone in attendance at the meeting, including parent Melanie Meyer, who took exception to requiring students to wear masks in school and to the word “rebel” being used during the board’s discussion to describe students who refuse to wear a mask.

“I’d like to know what law you are basing your mask mandate on in the public school system – why you feel like you are obligated and allowed to say that my 10-year-old daughter has to wear a mask because you want her to,” Meyer asked. “That’s my decision as a parent. And if my ‘rebel’ daughter – to quote you, sir – can’t wear a mask, then what? Are you going to tell me she’s going to have to go to virtual school? That’s baloney. …

“I shouldn’t have to keep her isolated because you believe in a mask and I don’t.”

Board President Matt Roth said he did not believe there is a law to mandate students wearing masks when in close contact with others, calling it a “guideline.”

“I think the option is to go virtual,” he said, adding the plan proposed contained some exceptions from wearing masks for medical purposes.

Additional information about the re-entry plan can be accessed by watching the Livestream video of the board meeting on the HCCSC website, www.hccsc.k12.in.us.