G-C reopening plan upends school routines for sake of safety

Harold Olin, superintendent of Greenfield-Central schools, outlines projects on which the school system is working, including $15 million worth of improvements to all the district's schools. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Sending children back to school in the midst of a pandemic can be scary for any parent.

Almost as scary as the notion of waking them up bright and early to head back to school after nearly a four-month hiatus.

When Greenfield-Central Schools resume classes on July 30, it will have been 140 days since classes were abruptly discontinued after March 12 due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Students took the remaining nine weeks of classes online at home.

They’ll be returning to a vastly different type of school setting in three weeks, one characterized by social distancing, plenty of hand sanitizing and face masks.

The Greenfield-Central School Board voted unanimously Monday to pass a school re-entry plan for the 2020-21 school year.

The plan lays out specific strategies for safety measures to protect the health and welfare of students and staff in the schools, while also offering a virtual learning option from home.

Parents should plan to register their students for the upcoming school year online the week of July 16 by logging into their students’ PowerSchool accounts, and selecting either onsite or virtual learning for each student in the household.

Virtual learning requires a full semester commitment, taking place Monday through Friday — consisting of five hours per day for kindergarten through sixth grade and six hours of daily learning for grades seven through 12. Some courses will not be available online.

Superintendent Harold Olin said students should expect online learning to be more stringent than it was after schools abruptly closed in the spring.

For onsite learning, which also will take place Monday through Friday, students will practice social distancing as much as possible, with assigned seats on buses and in cafeterias. Masks will be required in passing periods and whenever social distancing isn’t possible.

Olin said the environment will look drastically different for students returning this fall. “You’re going to see things that have been part of our school culture for a long time that will look different this year,” he said.

Locker visits will likely be limited, and faculty will need to be in classrooms before students arrive, which will alter the way they do in-house staff training.

Each morning before coming to school, faculty and staff are required to self-screen for COVID-19-like symptoms, while it’s recommended that caregivers do the same for students. According to re-entry guidelines, both students and staff should be fever-free for at least 72 hours without the use of fever reducing medication.

The re-entry plan states that if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, school officials will consult with the Hancock County Health Department and immediately close and deep-clean the rooms in which a positive test occurred.

In a survey taken by more than 1,700 parents and caregivers with students in Greenfield-Central schools, frequent cleaning and sanitation practices was at the top of list of things that would make them more comfortable sending their children back to school.

More than 84% of respondents said they would “most likely” or “probably” have their child participate in onsite learning, while the rest said they would “most likely” or “probably” opt for online learning.

As for face masks, 62% of respondents said they would provide their children’s masks while nearly 28% said they would like masks to be supplied by the school.

Olin expressed his gratitude for the educators and support staff who spent the summer devising a plan for students to safely return to school on schedule.

Five committees consisting of 65 faculty and staff members have been working to devise the re-entry plan, he said. The committees each focused on a specific area as it pertains to the return of students, including health and safety; operations and logistics; and social and emotional learning.

“We really wrestled with some difficult issues, but we feel like we were able to be responsive to our community,” Olin said. “We’ve got three weeks to continue to work on the details, and I’m sure we’ll set more guidelines after school starts.”

The school board has relied on and will continue to rely on guidance from the governor, the Indiana Department of Health, the Hancock County Health Department, the Indiana Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in creating and implementing the re-entry plan, Olin said.

The board will also consult with the Indiana State School Music Association and Indiana High School Athletic Association to regulate school sports, band and extracurricular events.

For more information regarding the corporation’s health and safety precautions, visit gcsc.k12.in.us.

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“You’re going to see things that have been part of our school culture for a long time that will look different this year.”

–Harold Olin, G-C superintendent