Local school districts announce reopening plans

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - As Indiana starts to reopen, so are our schools. Four St. Joseph County school districts have announced their plans to reopen in letters sent out to parents.

One of the biggest things to notice is that students and staff are required to have masks on them at all times but are not required to wear them at all times.

However, there are a plethora of other guidelines set for all four school districts in hopes to keep faculty and staff safe.

"We're obviously gearing up to a unique start of the school year and we just want to keep everyone safe," Christopher Winchell, the Superintendent for John Glenn School Corporation said.

School superintendents across St. Joseph County are thinking of ways they can safely get their students back 

“A few weeks ago school city of Mishawaka came to us and said you know we want to discuss reopening plans.” “we said well let's see if we can get all of the districts together," Dr. Mark Fox with the St. Joseph County Health Department said.

Superintendents from South Bend Community School Corporation, School City of Mishawaka, Penn Harris Madison and John Glenn all wanted one set of guidelines to follow, with approval from the st. Joseph county health department.

“Do that wherever in the county you are that parents and students have a reasonable common set of expectations," Dr. Fox said.

The main set of requirements in all four school districts are that:

    - All staff and students are required to have a mask at all times

    - Students/staff have to be fever-free for 72 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication

    - Lunches will be staggered to allow for social distancing and class schedules will be more flexible to maximize instructional space.

    - Cleaning procedures enhanced with more hand sanitizer stations    

    - Visitors/guests have restricted access to school buildings

    - An in-school clinic made available to identify and treat students showing symptoms

    - Perfect attendance incentives discontinued

Some schools like PHM have already announced some added measures like scheduling restroom breaks and issuing individual school plans for students. But PHM parents say it’s a nerve-racking decision

"It scares me to have… I mean Penn is a big school. I’ve got three of them going to high school and one in middle school so knowing that Penn is such a full student body I’m concerned about how they will actually social distance," Tricia Bosker, one PHM parent said.

As for not requiring students to wear masks at all times, “that concerns me," she said.

Dr. Fox said even with social distancing, it’s important to de-densify crowded areas and to make sure students have a mask with them.

“if we’re hanging out for 6 to 8 hours a day, there’s risk based on that duration of exposure. So yes proximity matters but duration also is a factor," he said.

“I’m torn because I don’t want to put them at risk and the school can only do so much so it’s up to me at this point what that risk is and everything else. My husband and I talked about homeschooling and or sending them back but I guess we’re going to try sending them and see how it goes," Bosker said.

However, Winchell isn't as worried.

“I’m not worried about our team coming together to do things in a great way and we do feel face-to-face instruction 5 days a week is really what’s best for our families," he said.

Todd Cummings, the superintendent for SBCSC is confident in the county health departments' help.

"We each have our reopening plans, we each have more granular detail we need to add. But today we said these are the big blocks of what we're going to do with the department of health to ensure we keep all of our students safe," Cummings said.

Several districts are looking into virtual options as well, saying it will most likely be much better than the e-learning that was given in the spring.

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