By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Fall classes for Warsaw Community Schools are tentatively set to begin at the normal time but will include some level of hybrid arrangements because of the coronavirus.
But with less than 12 weeks before the presumptive start date, WCS Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert said there are numerous unknowns in many facets of the district’s plans as WCS and every other school district in Indiana continue to wade deeper into the complexities of public education at what might be the tail end of a pandemic.
“Our plan is to open up our schools on time in August. Our plan is to welcome students back in person. Our plan is to have a summer school session, but we realize the plans have to be flexible,” Hoffert said during a joint news conference at Warsaw City Hall alongside Mayor Joe Thallemer, Kosciusko County Health Officer Dr. William Remington and County Commissioner Bob Conley.
The district is waiting on guidance from Governor Eric Holcomb’s office on many issues including class size, social distancing and the use of masks. Some of those are expected to be released by July 1, he said.
And he used a phrase that many organizers are echoing about future plans: “It will look different.”
He said the district is focused on issues they can control such as planning, sanitation, preparedness, technology and working with teachers and staff.
Hoffert said they expect to use some mix of remote learning, which has been used to some degree for some students in the past.
“We realize that no matter what, we’re going to have some sort of hybrid. It might not be for all students, but it might be for at-risk students,” Hoffert said.
“I think it is essential that we do create this even if we hopefully never have to use it to its full extent – that we have it in our back pocket,” he said.
Brad Hagg, chief technology officer for the district, said a lot of the technology is already in place.
“There’s a lot of options out there and it’s really about providing for the many different needs for all our folks, but also our ultimate quest is to get back to what we know is best, which is in-person learning, and doing it safely, obviously.”
Some national reports suggest public schools will be facing a huge financial crunch through shortfalls at the state level as fewer tax dollars are available.
Schools depend on income tax and sales revenues for classroom expenses; and property taxes for operational costs, Hoffert said.
All three sources could see reductions as a result of the pandemic.
Hoffert said they are worried and are already making preliminary adjustments.
“We are preparing to do more with less,” Hoffert said. “We put a lot of freezes on budget lines and we put freezes on hiring. We realize that we don’t know what this will completely look like when it materializes but absolutely – we are concerned about what that will do to education funding.”
Officials are also worried about some teachers not wanting to return to the classroom either out of concern for the spread of the virus or because they have underlying health concerns.
Hoffert said they are looking at how to accommodate teachers and are working with the teachers’ association about what can be done.
He said they are planning to host a bigger summer school program than ever before, but was unsure what percentage of students might participate.
“We have a lot of students playing catch-up and we just want to be able to assess where they are academically,” he said.