TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — At a board meeting on Monday, the Vigo County School Corporation approved a plan for middle school students to return school four days per week starting on Tuesday, March 2, and for high school students to start a four-day-per-week schedule on Tuesday, March 9.
Under this plan, Monday will remain a remote learning day for all middle and high school students, and all students who chose in-person learning this year will attend school Tuesday through Friday. The plan was developed with consultation from the Vigo County School Corporation COVID-19 Task Force, the Vigo County Health Department and several local healthcare leaders and is based on improving internal and community COVID-19-related data.
“I don’t think this is cause for celebration, let’s not go throw a big party. But, I think it’s cause for relief for middle school and high school students who have struggled with remote learning,” Bill Riley, Director of Communications for Vigo County School Corporation, said.
The move to more in-person learning for middle and high school students is focused on improving the academic success and mental health of students. The district will retain Monday as a remote learning day for middle and high school students to continue to practice remote learning and to allow for contact tracing for weekend cases.
“This is an opportunity for us to refocus on our mitigation strategies,” said Dr. Rob Haworth, superintendent of schools. “Our continued defense against the spread of the virus at school coupled with lower community spread has brought us to this day, and we must continue to be safe.”
During the meeting some parents voiced their concerns about the return to in-person learning being overdue. Among those parents, Gina Bradley says she has seen her son struggle with the adjustments of remote learning.
“With the lack of in person learning, just seeing him go through bouts of distance, and one of the things he says to me is I need a teacher to be in front of me, I need a teacher to teach me,” Bradley said.
Student mental health continues to be a concern. In January 2021, the district saw a 83% increase over January 2020 in school-based crisis assessments. By February 10, 2021, the district had already reached the February 2020 total for school-based crisis assessments.
The Vigo County School Corporation has an additional tool to combat the spread of COVID-19. The district has begun testing symptomatic staff members — who are still staying home when symptomatic — using BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests.
The district has studied districts with large high schools like Brownsburg, Avon, and Plainfield — schools with students who have attended school five days per week — and concluded that community spread, not educational model, is the largest driver of cases in the school setting.
Other large districts who have been in an A/B schedule at the secondary level like Bartholomew County and Seymour have already announced similar plans to move to full in-person instruction. The district continues to see minimal spread within school settings, including at the elementary level where students attend each day.
While quarantine numbers may increase, the district and schools will develop the best possible plans for high traffic situations like lunch.
“We support the idea of a staggered return to in-person learning for middle and high school students as community case numbers and local hospitalization rates continue to hold steady,” said Dr. Darren Brucken, Vigo County Health Commissioner. “The benefits to students in regards to academics, mental health, and interpersonal relationships with our teachers is undeniable. Continued mitigation strategies of distancing and masking will be strictly observed, and we will continue to monitor community case numbers and work together to contact trace cases.”
All schools within Vigo County will be monitored, and staff availability will continue to be the most important indicator of when a school may need a period of remote learning.
“We’re going into this very cautiously. The time is right to introduce a plan to turn more in person learning for our middle and high school students,” Riley said.
Rules for Vigo County School Corporation athletic events will not change at this time, and each participating athlete will still be allotted 4 tickets per contest.
Also on Monday, VCSC reported that a student from Rio Grande Elementary School tested positive for coronavirus after having been on school grounds during their infectious period. Students and staff have been notified, and will only need to quarantine if notified by a contact tracer.