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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Borden-Henryville School Corporation will transition to distance learning starting Monday amid the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, and the head of the Clark County Health Department says to expect other local public and private schools to follow suit.

Dr. Eric Yazel, Clark County's health officer, said his office met with local education officials Tuesday and recommended they switch to remote instruction after the Thanksgiving holiday.

While COVID-19 transmission rates within Clark County schools remain "extremely low" compared to community spread, Yazel said quarantines have caused staffing challenges for schools as they scramble to find substitutes for teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and others who have been exposed to the coronavirus.

"With our positivity rate going up, we had to look and say what's that going to look for the next few weeks going into December, especially after Thanksgiving," Yazel said. "... We all kind of made a group decision that everybody's going to transition to eLearning."

The Clark County Health Department later issued a public statement supporting schools as they move to virtual instruction.

The basic principles of limiting contacts, frequently washing hands and practicing social distancing will not reverse Clark County's COVID-19 caseload "in a day or even a week," the health department said.

"It will take the effort of all of us for several weeks to effectively change the disease transmission in our community," the agency said in its statement.

Yazel had previously said he would urge schools to cease in-person instruction if Clark County hit “red” in the state’s COVID-19 metric that takes weekly incidence rates and testing positivity rates into consideration. The county is currently approaching that status but remains “orange,” as of Tuesday.

For Yazel, that metric is more a tool for the public to determine what to expect in their communities based on local COVID-19 caseloads.

After reviewing COVID-19 data for Clark County, the local health department felt moving to distance learning was the best option to give families "enough time to make the plans they need to make logistically for the next few weeks," he said.

Continuing in-person classes without interruption was "very unlikely" based on the health department's analysis, Yazel said.

"We did say if anybody wants to continue in-person school, we'll work with you," he said. "But we do feel like you're going to have a very difficult time maintaining enough of a workforce through the illness and quarantines and things like that."

Yazel noted that Greater Clark County Schools is slated to finish the rest of the semester with distance learning, but other districts need time to plan the transition.

"You may even see students in schools up until Thanksgiving break, but at least the general impression I had when we all left the meeting was that everybody at least planned to finish the semester virtual," he said.

Sam Gardner, interim superintendent for Borden-Henryville, announced Tuesday the district's decision to switch to remote instruction starting next week, saying classes will continue at home until Jan. 5.

He noted the health department's support of the move to distance learning, citing rising COVID-19 cases in southern Indiana counties and growing numbers of student and staff quarantines within the district.

“As positive cases spike and we continue to set daily records of new positive cases in the state, I urge everyone to follow safety protocols so we can slow down this virus,” he said in the release.

The district “has noted increased cases at three of our four schools from last week,” Gardner said in the release.

“This determination has been made after input from the Clark County Health Department and BHSC administrators, teachers and nurses,” Gardner said. “Additionally, this decision will provide consistency to parents, students and teachers. Research indicates that a ‘yo-yo’ approach to education (a few days in class followed by a few days out) is not beneficial to students. Moreover, according to health officials, short term closures do not decrease the rate of positivity.”

Borden-Henryville will provide meals during the switch to remote learning. The district will also allow sports practices and games to continue as scheduled based on public health guidance, which includes limiting attendance.

The district joins New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation in transitioning to remote learning as Indiana’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise.

Yazel said he would be surprised if any public or private schools continued classroom instruction despite the health department's warning.

"Unless something changes, I don't foresee anybody in in-person after the Thanksgiving holiday," Yazel said.

"If somebody does decide to then we'll work with them, but again, they're going to have to maintain those safeguards that we've talked about all along. With our positivity rate the way it is, I think that's going to be a difficult process."

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