By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Hours before classes were set to begin in Warsaw Community Schools Tuesday – for the first time in five months – officials were expressing confidence in plans to get students back into the classroom despite an ongoing pandemic.
Officials say they’ve done everything possible to prepare for the return of classes in terms of cleaning buildings, establishing an alternative distance learning and setting protocols for students and staff.
Classes were set to resume Tuesday morning for the biggest school district in Kosciusko County.
Warsaw Community school board members got a final update at a board meeting Monday afternoon, Aug. 17.
Dr. David Robertson, assistant superintendent of elementary education, and Dani Barkey, assistant superintendent of secondary education, updated the board on details of how distance learning will work, specifically which types of online programs will be used for various grade levels.
Both reported that only about 5 percent of students have signed up for distance learning, which is half of what Hoffert had predicted might happen a few weeks ago.
Parents were asked to commit to one of the plans for the entire semester and given a deadline of July 27.
Distance learning will include only a basic selection of classes and those involved cannot participate in extra-curricular activities.
District Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert said the current arrangement is “99 percent locked in,” but at the same time, he added, that they “understand there are life circumstances that change.”
The biggest looming issue is how the school system will respond if students or staff fall ill and/or test positive for coronavirus. Hoffert again stressed that they will depend heavily on parents to make sure students don’t end up going to school if they show symptoms connected to the virus.
The school district has provided detailed steps in how that will work with online links.
Hoffert expressed appreciation to the Kosciusko County Health Department for the ongoing support and the fact the department recently added two employees.
If a student tests positive for the virus, the health department will notify the parents. Plans for contact tracing are in place and the school system will notify parents of students who are closely associated with the students who fall ill.
Another factor that works in the district’s favor is a 5 percent positivity rate for the county for the virus. That’s half as much as what is seen in Elkhart County and better than what is seen in Marshall County.
Hoffert said they’ve been fortunate to be able to watch other schools as they open and have learned from it.
Specifically, he said, they watched the school district in Brownsburg, which had a similar plan to one outlined in Warsaw, one day before the opening
“We learned that parents will go back and forth with their options,” Hoffert said.
Those switches, he said, ended up being rather balanced, which works out well.
“If it was a big wave one way or a big way the other, it would really impact our staffing,” he said.
He thanked a wide range of staff and supporters in the community in helping prepare for the school year.
“Our schools are so important, we’re willing to do whatever it takes to be able to get us off the ground tomorrow and then do whatever it takes to keep our doors open, and that means virtually and in person,” Hoffert said.
Board President Heather Reichenbach thanked Hoffert for his leadership and said reopening classes has become “a moral imperative.”
“We feel confident in where we’re at and that’s due to your diligence and leadership,” Reichenbach said.