LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Greater Clark County Schools plans to resume in-person classes on Wednesday, making it the first southern Indiana public school district to do so.
The district said it worked with Dr. Eric Yazel and the Clark County Health Department to create a plan that prioritizes the safety of students and staff.
Superintendent Mark Laughner said the district feels ready when it comes to the technological side of learning, as well as what is being done within the schools for in-person learning. Based on a survey done by the district, about 68% of parents have said they would like their child to come back to school in-person, Laughner said.
Laughner said each principal at each school developed a plan on how to handle arrival and dismissal, lunches and movement throughout the hallways. Principals also worked with teachers on seating within classrooms that allows students to socially distance as much as possible.
"We've also bought a whole lot of PPE supplies and equipment," Laughner said. "We have hand sanitizer stations strategically placed throughout each school."
The district has also moved to block scheduling to allow for less movement throughout the schools. Laughner said Yazel served as a key part of developing the reopening plans for the school year.
Teachers and students who test positive would need to be quarantined, and contact tracing would take place, he said.
"We're going to handle this school by school, community by community," Laughner said. "In Greater Clark we have three very different communities in Jeffersonville, Charlestown and New Washington. So, we're gonna look at that, each piece a little differently and monitor the positive cases with the health department and if we need to adjust we will do that quickly based on their advice."
When it comes to online learning, high school students had two options. The "My School Online" is available for high school, elementary and middle school students. It involves more interaction with teachers directly linked to the schools and still gives the option to participate in athletics.
"It can't be like last spring," Laughner said. "It needs to be improved. There needs to be new material introduced. There needs to be some accountability there in terms of both sides from the teacher and also the student, making sure the students are learning and growing educationally."
At Utica Elementary, Meghan Tetley and Julie Thieneman will co-teach, splitting 50 kids in person and online.
"Ms. Thieneman will start the day teaching English and language arts to the students in the the classroom," Tetley explained, "I'm going to be online with the 'My School Online' kids in different periods. So I'll start with kindergarten and then go to first grade and then we'll switch after our lunch time."
The high school level also offers a virtual academy, which is a more standalone option that allows students to work at their own pace with less interaction with teachers.
Despite the planning and precautions, Demond Thompson is keeping his 7-year old daughter, Georgia, home from Thomas Jefferson Elementary school.
"I don't want to risk my kids and I don't want to risk anyone else's," Thompson said.
Georgia, a second grader, candidly said, "masks are the worst."
Thompson and his wife, Christa, didn't think their little girl would be able to sit all day wearing a cloth facial covering.
"It wasn't an easy decision, not at all," Christa Thompson said. "She loves school."
As teachers prep for day one inside, the COVID-19 changes throughout schools are noticeable. At Utica Elementary school, there are no more lunch tables in the cafeteria, just rows of desk all facing forward.
Each classroom only has about 20 desks, though there's not enough space for them to be 6 feet apart. Each desk has a hand sanitizer and book bin. After reading, school leaders say books will sit for three days to disinfect before going to another child.
Thieneman said she believes schools are ready.
"We've done everything, put all the pieces in place to make sure the kids are safe," she said.
On Tuesday night, the school board approved each school's individual social distancing plans, which were previously signed off on by the Clark County Health Department.
"This is not the end of the world. There are safeties for this disease that we're looking at," said board member Bill Hawkins. "If we only listen to negative comments, then we may start thinking negatively; that the world is coming to an end and that we're going to all die from this thing."
According to state data, Clark County has seen 45 deaths and at least 950 positive cases since the start of the pandemic. However, local health officials say the current death rate is low and that it's safe enough to return to class at this time.
"If we need to take action quickly because there's a spike in cases, then we will," Laughner said.
The one Greater Clark school that won't open Wednesday is Jeffersonville High School. A teacher there tested positive for COVID-19, and now others are quarantining. The high school will be all online through Aug. 4.
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