Crawfordsville school board members were brought up to speed Thursday on how the highly anticipated start to the 2020-21 school year has fared during a public meeting.
Superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling and others reported little-to-no issues concerning masks, handwashing, social distancing and other health protocols in place to combat the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but noted some rising challenges as well.
“A different start than anyone’s ever seen,” he said. “Your teachers and principals and the people in the buildings are working harder than they have in their careers to try to meet the challenges of this crisis. We’ve had a good start and it’s due to their amazing efforts, and they’re still going above and beyond.”
A potential issue Bowling and others were anticipating was the use of facial coverings by large numbers of students. The school can only do so much, he said, and needs the cooperation of students and their families to avoid another shutdown.
But he was happy to relay feedback from teachers, bus drivers and others that students have been cooperative with every health protocol presented to them.
“When we were talking in May and June, it was, ‘How are we going to get these kids to do this,’” he said. “They were either used to it or they just wanted to help support us; whatever the reason, the students have done a great job.
“They have been remarkably compliant with their masks, handwashing and safety procedures. We thought we might have more pushback on the mask idea from the students, and that just really hasn’t happened.”
Board member Kathy Brown said children can be surprising with how well they respond to challenges.
“I think we sell our kids short a lot of times,” she said. “Kids are used to adapting and things change.”
Teachers are also happy to be back to in-person methods of instruction, Bowling said. They are teaching three groups of students throughout the week as a result of the hybrid, rotating schedule adopted by the district — two rotating groups in the classroom and those who chose remote learning
“I’m concerned about burnout. That’s a concern, and it’s not falling on deaf ears,” he said.
Students who returned to the classroom this semester are also glad to be back, Bowling said, but student life is still far from normal.
“I’ve heard from a lot of students that they missed that,” he said. “They miss all the activities that go along with school, and even though it’s certainly not normal, it is some form of normalcy for the students and teachers in terms of teaching and learning.”
The hybrid model of rotating groups has been well received by parents, he added.
But the start has not been without its difficulties. Some current challenges administrators are attempting to meet include learning how to use take-home devices, especially for students with grandparents as guardians, and a lack of participation from students.
The school only employs registered nurses, and has created the position of COVID emergency manager at the high school.
“We moved Amy Bales into that position, and we brought a temporary nurse in to cover her,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Rex Ryker said. “We have had numerous people who have had symptoms enough to be tested, and everybody’s been negative so far. (Bales) is continuously doing that. Her moving into that position actually saves (Bowling’s) and my sanity.”
Bales is in constant communication with the Montgomery County Health Department and gives advice and guidance to staff and parents, he added.
“I do think that has helped a lot,” he said.
But the district also sees a COVID-positive case as inevitable as other area schools deal with outbreaks.
“Just because we have zero cases right now doesn’t mean we won’t have any — we will,” Bowling said. “That’s going to happen. We will have that challenge. Clinton Prairie sent 47 students home today ... and they’re in a county where there’s not supposed to be a lot of transmission.
“That’s probably going to happen (to us),” he continued. “At this point it’s almost unavoidable.”