Vigo Schools release ‘return to school plan’

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TERRE HAUTE, IN—The Vigo County School Corporation is releasing a draft school re-entry and COVID-19 mitigation plan, ahead of Monday night’s School Board of Trustees vote.

The 26-page document is a detailed plan for a safe return to school buildings on Tuesday, August 11, and will continue to evolve based on new COVID-19-related information. The plan is posted at vigoschools.org.

Highlights of the plan include a virtual school option for students who do not want to return to traditional school, distancing of 6 feet when possible, masking for students and staff when distancing is not possible, a generally symptom-based method for school exclusion, policies for safer bus transportation, and procedures for enhanced sanitation procedures and handwashing/sanitizer use for students and staff.

The district will collaborate with the Vigo County Health Department to trace contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Many of the plan’s mitigation procedures are meant to prevent potential high-risk contact, giving the district the best chance to keep children in school. Parents and caregivers will be notified if a case is present in their school, and the Vigo County Health Department will notify those who need to be excluded from school due to close contact with a confirmed case. A notification from the school corporation that a case exists inside the building does not necessarily mean that a child needs to be excluded from school.

“We are one of Vigo County’s largest employers, with over 2,000 teachers, bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, and food service staff members,” Bill Riley, director of communications with the district, said. “We must protect their health. The way in which we open our doors to 14,000 students also has a profound impact on public health.”

The plan was developed through multiple conversations with each Vigo County School Corporation employee group—including the Vigo County Teachers Association—and with guidance from the Vigo County Health Department and other local healthcare leaders.

Results of the parent survey are included in the plan. Over 65% of parents and caregivers responded to the district’s survey, which asked for parent comfort levels with five potential scenarios. Universal masking was the most popular scenario with parents and caregivers, with 62.7% of parents and caregivers indicating their comfort with universal masking. 53.7% were comfortable with staff-only masking, and 44.3% were comfortable with no masking. 58.3% of parents were comfortable with a hybrid in-person/remote learning plan, and 49.6% were comfortable with remote-only learning.

All students and staff members will be provided with at least two reusable cloth masks at the beginning of the year. They will be required to have a mask at all times. Individual schools will develop building-specific methods for the creative use of outdoor spaces, allowing for times throughout the day for decreased exposure and breaks from mask wearing.

“Masks are about making the people around us safer,” Riley noted. “The use of masks when distancing isn’t possible means that when we have a case in our schools, fewer people have had close contact and fewer people will miss out on school for an extended period of time. But more important than that, we’ll be able to offer the important services that take place in our buildings while reducing our burden on public health.”

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday at the West Vigo Conference Center. Members of the public are welcome to attend, and a maximum capacity will be enforced to allow for social distancing. Masks must be worn when entering the building. The meeting will be livestreamed on the district YouTube channel at tinyurl.com/VCSCyoutube.

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