Cautious optimism evident two weeks into full return

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Though Crawfordsville Superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling has reported positive trends since the district’s full return to in-person instruction Sept. 28, his optimism was admittedly tempered Thursday during a regular public meeting.

The superintendent’s reserve can be credited to rising numbers in cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in and around Montgomery County in the past week, following a week of zero cases.

“I think that’s something to celebrate,” he said. “Realistically, that’s not going to hold.”

Superintendents at North Montgomery and Southmont, Dr. Colleen Moran and Dr. Shawn Greiner, expressed similar concerns in recent days in letters to parents

County schools abandoned a hybrid model of attendance at the secondary level Sept. 28 and opted for a full return to campus for all students.

But facial coverings and social distancing guidelines continue to be enforced to allow schools to stay open, Bowling said.

“Spot checks on classrooms for our mask-wearing purposes ... kids seem to be doing really well with it,” he said. “We do expect them to wear those.”

A small number of students have not complied with the mask mandate.

“It’s not a wide-spread issue, to be sure,” he said. “It does tend to be students who might otherwise have disciplinary problems outside of the masking issue.”

He also updated the school board on the goings-on two weeks into the return amid the ongoing pandemic.

“So far, so good,” he said. “Students are reporting that they’re happy to be back and seeing all their friends from the other part of the alphabet. We haven’t gotten any reports from teachers in terms of issues.”

In the weeks leading up to the decision to return all students to campus full time, the board held multiple public sessions for public input both for and against the hybrid model.

Teachers who expressed concern with the full return — one going as far as to say he would seek alternate employment if forced to teach a full class in person — have worked with administrators to experience a more comfortable setting, Bowling said.

“Some of the teachers that were at the last board meeting who were very concerned, and rightfully so, we were able to accommodate them and put them in larger classrooms for their larger classes so they could spread out more,” he said.

Getting all students back in the classroom, however, has been a separate issue

“They will, especially at the high school level, battle attendance issues with kids who quite frankly don’t enjoy coming to school,” Bowling said. “There’s been lots of phone calls to remind people that they have to come every day now.

“In terms of students — and this is part of the discussion too — when we moved from the hybrid to the full return, there was some concern that we’d have a lot more students heading towards full distance,” he added. “We’ve had one student (move from the hybrid to full distance learning).”

As of Thursday, nearly all students had returned to campus and kept coming back since Sept. 28. Thirty-nine have remained in full remote learning mode at the middle school compared to 12 at the high school.

Nearly 100 students and their families opted for full distance learning options at the start of the school year Aug. 5.

Additionally, Bowling said efforts to begin COVID-19 testing at school are underway and are expected to begin being available soon.

“There’s not too much more to do on that end,” he said. “I would put a target date on that on the Monday after fall break when we can begin testing in schools in some shape or fashion.”

But Bowling and other board members like Kathy Brown stressed that testing will not be forced on students and will only take place with parents’ permission.

“There are no plans for Crawfordsville Schools to mandatory test kids without parental approval,” Brown said. “I’ve seen that rumor online, which is very ridiculous, where they’re like, ‘How dare they test my kids without my approval.’ And others are trying to explain, ‘It’s a testing site that kids with symptoms or have exposure could be tested.’

“We are not forcibly testing our students,” she stressed. “It’s so they don’t have to make a separate appointment and go to the doctor. This is a convenience for the parents and our community.”

Bowling reiterated Brown’s comments, saying “we will not be forcibly testing or doing any surveillance testing.”

“This will be for kids who show symptoms,” he said. “And, even at that, would require parent consent. It could really help their student out, because if they test negative right away then they don’t have to quarantine, and would help them academically.”

The next regularly scheduled meeting for Crawfordsville Schools is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 12 in the LGI Room at the middle school, 705 Wallace Ave.

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