School corporation has multiple scenarios for coming year

It will be open, but it won’t be the same place it was this time last year, when students entered school through the doors one way but finished the school year in an entirely different scenario. With COVID-19 still claiming lives in Indiana, the way Hoosier schools will welcome back students this fall will be, simply defined, “different.”

Huntington County Community School Corporation is no exception, says Superintendent Chad Daugherty, when the county’s school children head back to class on Aug. 5.

“Our goal is to start school on time, to start school as we normally do,” Daugherty told the HCCSC School Board during its meeting on June 8. “That is our goal.”

How that will be accomplished is a good question. There are multiple scenarios the district has envisioned as what could happen for the reopening of school, as school districts across the state confer with each other and await direction from the state on how children will head back to class this fall.

HCCSC, along with every school district in Indiana, received a 37-page document from the Indiana Department of Education, dubbed IN-CLASS, announcing its COVID-19 re-entry recommendations for the 2020-21 school year. State Superintendent Dr. Jennifer McCormick also addressed those plans with school administrators during a virtual meeting on June 9.

“The health and safety of Hoosier students, school staff and communities is priority one. Providing students with a quality education is critical and therefore it is crucial we offer considerations focused on getting students back in the classroom in a safe manner,” said McCormick.

“Considering the many unknowns associated with COVID-19, we also recognize the importance of alternative learning opportunities. We appreciate the thoughtful and collaborative spirit in which IN-CLASS was developed.”

At the school board’s May 11 meeting, Daugherty suggested some re-entry plans, including having students attend classes on a split schedule that would allow just 15 students to be in a classroom at a time. Without being able to count on having “waiver days” for the next school year, he said the district needs this time to plan ahead.

“We still don’t know what this is going to look like in the fall,” he told the board. “It’s going to look different. What could that look like? We could envision students meeting on Mondays and Wednesdays, and another group meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays to be able to social distance.”

Daugherty said students may even eat their lunch in their classrooms to avoid contact with crowds in the cafeteria.

Reworking the bus route to accommodate the classroom schedule is another issue the district is working on, he said.

“It can be very confusing. There’s a lot of work that’s going to involve transportation,” Daugherty said. “When you follow a child being picked up, maybe one is on a seat at a time on the bus – how is that going to look like? We’re the second-largest district in the state, geographically, in miles traveled, so we’re going to have to really target geographically, where students live to be able to pull this off. So that’s just one way it’s going to look like in the classroom.”

HCCSC is also working on providing a virtual classroom option for those parents who do not want to send their children to school. Daugherty said a survey will be sent out to parents asking for their thoughts on the subject.

“There are some parents that do want a virtual option, due to this and without having a vaccine,” Daugherty says. “We feel we need to have a virtual option for those parents and students that feel that way.”

He adds that the district’s virtual program is good but could be better. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Jay Peters has been working with teachers to make improvements, Daugherty says, adding the program will look different in the elementary schools, middle schools and high school. But he indicated to the board that HCCSC doesn’t want to lose students to other districts’ virtual learning programs.

HCCSC has partnered with Huntington city and county officials to write a grant that would put a camera in each classroom at the high school in order to offer distance learning. Students who are staying home on a particular day would be able to view the class they would otherwise have missed. Those students would also be counted as attending school, which could have an impact on the district’s average daily membership (ADM), the count that affects the amount of state funding a school district receives.

Another issue Daugherty says the district will have to address is teachers and employees with health issues and how classes will be conducted in their absence.

HCCSC administrators had a meeting on June 12 with officials from the Huntington County Department of Health and Parkview Huntington Hospital to make sure the re-entry options meet with health department guidelines. Administrators will also visit Kokomo Schools to see how their K-12 virtual option program works. Daugherty would not elaborate on specific plans, but says they will be presented to the board at its June 22 regular meeting.

The re-entry of the athletics and extracurricular programs is another consideration. Daugherty said the ISHAA gave Huntington North High School Athletic Director Kris Teusch some guidelines. Again, those details will be released to the board for their approval on June 22, Daugherty said.

There will also likely be changes to the school calendar with as many as four non-school days moved from spring break to January instead, Daugherty says. However, the goal is to keep vacation breaks the same as before, he adds.  

In other business, the school board learned that teachers and staff have nearly finished moving into the newly constructed Roanoke Elementary School just in time for the 2020-21 school year. At the school board’s June 8 meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Classified Staff Scott Bumgardner told board members the construction was on time thanks to good weather and abatement of the old building has already begun in anticipation of its demolition. That demolition is anticipated to begin sometime at the end of June or the first part of July, Bumgardner added.

The final touches are the installation of playground equipment and landscaping around the new building’s grounds. Bumgardner said the playground equipment has arrived and installation should begin soon.

A “virtual” celebration in the form of a video to remember the old elementary building and dedicate the new building is in the works, and is now available on the Huntington County Community School Corporation’s Facebook page. Daugherty said a celebration cannot be held on the school grounds because the old building must be torn down before the next school year.