Five School Districts ready to begin return to the classroom
It's been about three months since the Health Department recommended high schools and middle schools go to fully online curriculums after a rising trend of COVID-19 cases were found there. Now the health department is recommending those schools make a partial return to the classroom with a hybrid model to begin the new semester, but some parents in the area said it's time to go back fulltime in the classroom.
"Now, even the impact of the holiday gatherings should have washed out of the system, if you will," St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox said. "So, for all those reasons, I think this is a reasonable timeframe to resume at least the hybrid model of instruction."
Fox said the health department originally recommended high schools and middle schools go to a fully virtual program because they were showing high "case burden, hospitalization burden and evidence of transmission occurring among high school students." Dr. Fox said those are all back down to a point where he is comfortable recommending the schools go back to the classroom partially.
Five districts in Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties said Tuesday will be their first day of their hybrid model of schooling, where students spend two to three days a week in the classroom and the rest at home in virtual learning. Those districts are the South Bend Community School Corporation, School City Mishawaka, Penn Harris Madison Schools, Elkhart Community Schools and Goshen Community Schools, but at least one Penn Harris Madison Schools parent, Bryan Jones, said the hybrid return was not enough.
"They would also tell you that the transmission rate of the virus in the school community is lower than it is anywhere else, but yet, we're still able to go to bars and sit shoulder to shoulder with a stranger, but our kids can't go to school," Jones said. "So, it's time to return fulltime and in-person."
Jones said he's working to convince the community that it's time for a return to fulltime, in-person, classroom learning. He created a group online called the Return To Learn Committee, which has other parents who are ready for their kids to go back fully to the classroom.
Ryan Kreagor has kids in private school have been at school fulltime since the fall semester.
"Then, the pandemic hit, and we looked at it and said 'it is about balance,'" Kreagor said. "'We need to balance the mental health, the social health of our kids with their physical health.' We talked to a lot of schools, both public and private, and we realized they were taking great precautions. They had great protocols in place and really dedicated staff that wanted the kids to learn."
Dr. Fox said there were too many unanswered questions to say it is safe for a full return to the classroom.
"The biggest wildcard we have right now is the emergence of this more contagious strain, the B117 variant which has been identified in Indiana. Not only is it more contagious, but it's also more readily transmissible among school-aged children."
Fox said because of that B-117 variant, he couldn't say one way or the other if schools would be able to stay open to in-person learning for the rest of the academic year.