Back to class: Local high school students return to in-person learning

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. high school students resumed traditional in-person learning on Monday, the first chance many had to see their friends face-to-face, although a few feet apart, in months.

“It was great to see our students back in our buildings and it felt a lot like a first day of a school year — happy to be back together, nervous excitement for a new environment, and ready to get started,” said BCSC Superintendent Jim Roberts. “We are excited to have all of our students, grades K-12, back full-time as we know it is best for their growth and development.”

After finishing 2020 with districtwide eLearning that began in November, BCSC started the new semester with in-person learning for elementary students and hybrid for secondary, with virtual options still in place.

Middle school students were able to return to five days a week of in-person learning the week of Feb. 22. Now, with just a few months before summer break, high schoolers have returned as well.

Roberts said that BCSC is doing its best — both at a district and individual school level — to reinforce the guidelines that were set at the beginning of the school year.

“We will continue to prioritize them for the safety of our students, staff, and community,” he said.

COVID-19 protocols for the school corporation have not changed since the start of the school year.

The school corporation is defining a close contact is someone who has been within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more (with the time being cumulative), Roberts said.

Quarantine length for positive cases and close contacts is “14 days from the point of last exposure.”

In addition, temperature checks are still regularly occurring, some at the entrances each morning, and students are required to wear masks.

For social distancing, Roberts said appropriate distances are “sitting 3 to 6 feet apart in the classroom and 6 feet or greater everywhere else.”

In the past, and as early as summer of 2020, Roberts cited the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that a 3- to 6-foot range can be used as appropriate social distancing in some situations.

There have been challenges all year, and returning to in-person will bring difficulties, Roberts said. However, he also stated the school corporation’s phased approach has gone “as well as we could have hoped.”

“COVID-19 related data continues to trend in a good direction in our community as well as in our school buildings,” Roberts said. “As we have acted carefully, considerately, and conservatively with our mitigation efforts, the phased in approach has also given our state and federal government additional time to make all of our school employees eligible to now receive the COVID-19 vaccination.”

Students can safely sit just 3 feet apart in the classroom as long as they wear masks but should be kept the usual 6 feet away from one another at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday in relaxing its COVID-19 guidelines.

The revised recommendations represent a turn away from the 6-foot standard that has sharply limited how many students some schools can accommodate. Some places have had to remove desks, stagger schedules and take other steps to keep children apart.

In recent months, schools in some states have been disregarding the CDC guidelines, using 3 feet as their standard. Studies of what happened in some of them helped sway the agency, said Greta Massetti, who leads the CDC’s community interventions task force.

“We don’t really have the evidence that 6 feet is required in order to maintain low spread,” she said. Also, younger children are less likely to get seriously ill from the coronavirus and don’t seem to spread it as much as adults do, and “that allows us that confidence that that 3 feet of physical distance is safe.”

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the revised recommendations are a “roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction.” She said in-person schooling gives students not only “the education they need to succeed” but access to crucial social and mental health services.

The new guidance:

Removes recommendations for plastic shields or other barriers between desks. “We don’t have a lot of evidence of their effectiveness” in preventing transmission, Massetti said.

Advises at least 3 feet of space between desks in elementary schools, even in towns and cities where community spread is high, so long as students and teachers wear masks and take other precautions.

Says spacing can also be 3 feet in middle and high schools, so long as there is not a high level of spread in the community. If there is, the distance should be at least 6 feet.

The CDC said 6 feet should still be maintained in common areas, such as school lobbies, and when masks can’t be worn, such as when eating.

Also, students should be kept 6 feet apart in situations where there are a lot of people talking, cheering or singing, all of which can expel droplets containing the coronavirus. That includes chorus practice, assemblies and sports events.

Teachers and other adults should continue to stay 6 feet from one another and from students, the CDC said.

The CDC’s 6-foot advice for schools, issued last year, was the same standard applied to workplaces and other settings. In contrast, the World Health Organization suggested 1 meter — a little over 3 feet — was sufficient in schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics says desks should be 3 feet apart and “ideally” 6 feet.

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  • Appropriate social distancing: Sitting 3- to 6-feet apart in the classroom and staying 6-feet apart in other situations
  • Close contact: Someone who has been within 6-feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more (with the time being cumulative)
  • Quarantine lengths for positive cases and close contacts: 14 days from the point of last exposure
  • Temperature screenings are still regularly occurring, and masks are still required.

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HOPE — For Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., students have been able to be in-person since starting the new semester on Jan. 11.

Superintendent Shawn Price said that there has been a "relatively low" number of positives, especially compared to the figures in late October and November. He said that close contacts have also been down since the return to in-person learning.

“There have been challenges, but I think the benefits greatly outweigh those," he said. "And I think that the kids were ready to be back, the teachers were ready to have them back. We all know the value of in-person learning.”

Price said that while the school corporation has stuck with the protocols it enacted at the beginning of the school year, there could be some changes in the near future.

"We have been discussing the new guidelines from the CDC and working with our administration team to decide if there’s any changes we want to make at this point," he said.

He said that changes could include getting rid of temperature checks, changing quarantine timelines and altering recess protocols.

Price said that if changes take place this week, the school corporation will likely notify families with a letter announcing the news.