When Carmel Clay Schools students start the school year Aug. 13, approximately 20 percent will be learning from home.
At the July 27 school board meeting, CCS Supt. Michael Beresford announced the results of a parent survey asking whether families will choose virtual or in-person learning. Now that the results are in, administrators are busy making teaching assignments and classroom rosters.
“There’s a great balancing act going on right now,” Beresford said during his superintendent’s report at the meeting.
Fully virtual options are being offered for students at all grade levels. CCS will provide in-person schooling five days a week for elementary and middle school students and a hybrid option of in-person schooling every other day for students at Carmel High School.
Beresford said the percentage of students choosing to attend in-person classes varies at each campus, but he decided not to release those numbers at the school board meeting.
“It’s a very personal, individual decision parents have to make for their kids,” he said July 28. “I didn’t want anybody to feel peer pressure. I’m sure (parents) put enough pressure on themselves, so I tried to stay away from that.”
The district is working to create virtual positions for teachers with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, giving next priority to those who live with someone who could be vulnerable or have other related concerns.
Beresford said it’s too early to tell how class sizes will be affected.
“We’re hopeful we’ll have at least no more kids in the classroom (than normal),” he said. “We’re hoping it will be less.”
Beresford said school administrators have frequently consulted with county and state health officials and medical professionals to develop its reopening plan. He’s prepared for those plans to change at a moment’s notice, meaning all schools are ready for a sudden switch to virtual learning or a hybrid model if health experts determine it’s not safe to go to school.
Still, Beresford hopes in-person classes can be held at least until September to give students and teachers a chance to get to know each other and classroom routines. He said teachers will use the Canvas computer program in the classroom so students will be familiar with it if they need to switch to virtual learning.
“It would be a great thing if we could get to eight weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks of in-person school, but we know going in we may have to pivot,” Beresford said.
COVID-19 cases have risen in Indiana in recent weeks, but Beresford said there is enough time to lower those numbers before students go back to school. He urges all members of the community to wear face masks, practice physical distancing, frequently wash their hands and stand side-by-side rather than face-to-face when interacting.
“If we as a community can really make that a priority in Carmel, it’s going to flatten that curve. We’ve got to be persistent and consistent because the virus can’t live without a host,” Beresford said. “We’re about two weeks and a few days from the start (of school). If everybody practices great social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks, we could be pretty clean by the time schools start.”
Jim Ginder, Hamilton County Health Dept. health education specialist, said he worked closely with CCS administrators as they developed their reopening plan. He said CCS is doing an “awesome job” with its plan and agreed it’s going to take a community effort to ensure schools remain a safe place for students and teachers.
“My opinion is the virus is going to be here forever, and we need to learn how to respect it,” Ginder said. “If we learn how to respect it, our numbers are going to start to decrease and we’re going to be OK.”
What if someone gets sick?
Although many aspects of Carmel Clay Schools’ reopening plan are becoming more clear, school officials are still awaiting state guidance on some matters.
CCS Supt. Michael Beresford said the district has received conflicting information on what to do when a student is diagnosed with COVID-19. Initially, he said the guidance indicated contact tracing would be used to alert those who had been within 6 feet of the student, but more recent guidelines from the state indicated every member of a classroom should be quarantined for two weeks if more than one person tests positive for the disease.
Jim Ginder, Hamilton County Health Dept. health education specialist, said there is no diagnosis threshold for closing an entire school. He said district officials and the county would consult with state leaders to make that decision.
During the July 27 school board meeting, Beresford said CCS has gotten a glimpse of what the process could look like. He said a school employee was diagnosed with COVID-19, but because the employee and everyone around the employee were wearing masks, health officials did not recommend quarantining anyone else.