By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – A month from today, school districts in Northern Indiana will be in various stages of reopening their buildings for in-class instruction in the midst of a pandemic that is growing worse in some parts of the nation.
Extensive guidelines provided by the CDC and Indiana Department of Health will lay the groundwork for how public schools are preparing protocols to keep students and staff safe and reduce as much as possible the transmission of the coronavirus.
But several issues that are out of their control will make it a challenge as students try to settle into a new school year.
While the amount of testing access has grown substantially locally and elsewhere, much more will be needed if and when students and staff start showing serious symptoms or fall ill to COVID-19 after school begins.
Along with a looming possible shortage of available tests, health officials also worry that the wait time for results will grow even longer.
When schools identify students and staff who fall ill, the amount of contract tracing, researching, additional tests and extensive quarantine periods could make operating classes even more difficult.
Could those circumstances force schools to suddenly cease in-class instruction?
“We’re going to try real hard to avoid that,” Kosciusko County Health Officer Dr. William Remington said Wednesday during a media briefing at Warsaw City Hall.
“This will be a challenging time,” he said.
Officials will be relying heavily on parents for screening their children each day before they leave for school. Schools will be working closely with the Kosciusko County Health Department.
“It’s going to take a village on this one,” Remington said.
Wawasee Community Schools officials participated in the news conference and outlined some of the district’s protocols that were approved by the school board on Tuesday.
Masks will be required on Wawasee school busses and heavily recommended for students in high traffic areas such as hallways. Masks will not be required in the classrooms.
Wawasee will use assigned seating on busses, classrooms and cafeteria and Wawawsee officials are looking to expand the number of lunch periods at the high school from two to three.
Wawasee is allowing parents to opt-out and have their children use distance learning. Based on a survey, that estimate about 10 percent of students will opt-out. That could add up to about 300 children.
Dr. Thomas Edington, superintendent of Wawasee Community Schools, and Dr. Stephen Troyer, assistant superintendent, attended the media briefing
Administrators are asking parents to commit by July 31 to the opt-out for of classroom instruction for a full trimester so staffing and plans can be developed.
All Wawasee buildings will begin classes 30 minutes later than the normal start time to provide more time for cleaning and class prep.
Classes in the Wawasee school district are set to begin Aug. 13.
Warsaw Community classes are set to open on Aug. 18.
While Indiana is seeing a gradual rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and has eased up on its prescribed reopening efforts, the virus is surging in many of the southern states. More than half of all states have announced the mandated use of masks in public.
Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer and Remington continued to urge people to wear masks in public and adhere to social distancing.
Remington said additional, and quicker testing will be needed as school approaches.
Thallemer said he was told that the demand for test processing from cases in other states is having an impact on how fast local cases can be processed.
A drive-thru testing service run by the state began operating at Central Park Tuesday. Thallemer said 177 tests were administered on the first day.
In a related note, the Kosciusko County Health Department reported on Wednesday it received 46 new cases between July 8 and July 15. This gives Kosciusko County a total of 610 positive cases and four deaths.