Education

Schools nearing return to remote learning

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School administrators hesitated to pull the trigger on distance learning over the weekend.

The move follows a relatively favorable Sunday forecast of positivity rates during a meeting between county superintendents and the Montgomery County Health Department.

The Sunday workshop is part of weekly series of meetings between school administrators and city and health officials in efforts to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

On Sunday, administrators expected to announce a plan for full remote learning for all county schools amid climbing positivity rates. However, they decided to maintain in-person instruction for the time being, largely due to the county’s positivity rate and low transmission rates between students during the school day.

“On Sunday we were looking at community spread and how many cases we have in schools,” Crawfordsville Superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling said. “Primarily, it’s community focused and has to do with the [state’s novel coronavirus] color-coded map; the health department has access to data to predict what color we’re going to be in.”

Updated every Wednesday, the Indiana novel coronavirus dashboard (www.coronavirus.in.gov) reported 724 new cases in Montgomery County between Oct. 23 and Nov. 23; compared to 588 reported between March and October, the county has experienced a rate increase of 123% in 30 days.

“Based on the way things were trending, I thought we would move to red this Wednesday [Nov. 25],” Bowling said. “But the data that we got is that we are not.”

Bowling reported a forecasted average for Nov. 25 of a 12.5% overall positivity rate for Montgomery County.

However, the ever-increasing figure is getting close to the state’s threshold of 15% before it recommends remote learning options.

“I don’t want to give people a false sense of hope, but we’re in the 12.5% range,” Bowling said. “If we had gotten above that I think you would have seen all county schools go to some form of distance learning.”

Bowling works closely with fellow superintendents Dr. Colleen Moran and Dr. Shawn Greiner at North Montgomery and Southmont, respectively. The trio consults a variety of county, city, health and emergency management groups throughout the week before making recommendations to their schools boards.

“We must look at all data collectively to determine if moving to full virtual learning is necessary,” Moran said Monday while citing additional factors such as staff and student attendance. “In our discussion with [Health Officer Dr. Scott Douglas] last evening, we agreed that we are able to maintain in-person instruction.”

But if the decision is eventually made to move to full e-learning options, the superintendents have all said it will not happen overnight.

“We always over plan in the event we must move quickly,” Moran added. “If we were to move towards virtual learning, we would want as much time as possible for parents to make arrangements.”

Greiner’s comments echoed those of Moran, voicing solidarity within three districts that maintain close ties in schedules, extra-curricular activities, vocational programs, breaks and more.

“We always plan ahead to remain as prepared as possible, and the three districts will continue to study data and work together to make decisions that address the safety of our students in collaboration with our county health department,” he said. “We have learned so much since March. If we were to face a remote learning situation, we suspect it would be for a short term and may not need to include all schools.”

All three superintendents expressed the same goal Monday: In the event full remote learning is necessary, administrators will actively work to bring students back to the preferred method of in-person instruction as soon as possible.

“It will not be like it was last year where we stay in remote learning for a whole semester,” Bowling said. “It may be two days ... could be just a week. That’s what we’re looking at moving forward — short bouts of distance learning.”

When the school year began, the three districts opted for hybrid schedules in which students would attend every other day and returned to in-person instruction Sept. 28.

During that time, parents and guardians of students voiced concern over the navigability of online learning platforms such as Canvas; in some cases, grandparents were left struggling to explain the programs to their students. Due to struggles with online programs, ample daycare for working parents truancy and increased levels in depression in youth, Crawfordsville schools distributed more failing grades than ever before.

Bowling said this concern has not escaped administrators.

“We have aides in schools and we’ve talked about utilizing those aides to do things like help them get online and help their parents or grandparents get online,” he said. “With all the kids gone, they wouldn’t have in-school duties. That allows us to keep them paid — we don’t want to lose them. That’s a win-win situation.”

Furthermore, while online, students would likely be learning from the teachers themselves rather than planned or static lesson plans.

“In any remote learning situation, our goal is to ensure students have live, virtual instruction to limit the interruption,” Greiner said.

Meanwhile, Moran added, “If we were to go remote, parents and students can expect to see more live, synchronous interaction.”

“We now have the equipment and training necessary to better engage students,” she said.

For updates, resources and additional information, visit the schools’ websites at www.nm.k12.in.us, www.cville.k12.in.us and www.southmont.k12.in.us. Daily updates can also be found on their respective social media platforms.

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