By STEVEN MURREY
Frankton-Lapel schools will return to in-person learning beginning Monday, Aug. 24, district superintendent Bobby Fields said in an email to parents late Friday morning.
Last Friday, Frankton-Lapel families were notified that junior and high schools would operate at fifty percent capacity for the week of Aug. 17 through Aug. 21. The change came after the Madison County Health Department reported a rolling average of 19 new COVID-19 cases for the week prior.
Frankton-Lapel’s School Re-Entry Plan listed the level of spread as moderate, which triggers the hybrid schooling model. Students with last names A-K attended in-person on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Students with last names J-Z attended on Tuesday and Thursday. The elementary schools within the district remained open, as students do not switch from one classroom to the next.
In his email, Fields thanked parents for their patience and understanding. He noted that decisions often change because information about the virus changes rapidly, forcing quick decisions in response.
“After consulting with the Madison County Health Department it was determined our best option for student instruction is in person,” Fields wrote. “We will continue to mandate enhanced social distancing and hygiene practices to the greatest extent practicable to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
In an interview Friday afternoon, Fields expressed empathy for parents frustrated with the changing schedules.
“I’m sure it’s a lot to keep up with for parents,” said Fields. “I do not think there is anything more important than students and teachers being face to face. I don’t think you can replace that with any other kind of learning. That’s paramount in educational instruction.”
Fields said the hybrid plan is difficult for everyone, teachers, students, and parents alike.
“As long as the health department is in agreement, I think it’s important to take advantage of the days we can all be together,” Fields said.
Approximately 350 students in the Frankton-Lapel school district are utilizing eLearning options this semester, which amounts to about 11 percent of students in the district.
Madison County Health Department administrator Stephanie Grimes said Friday the rolling average for this week dropped to 13.7 cases per day. According to guidelines issued by the health department, the number falls on the low end of the moderate spread category, which is defined as 12-24 cases per week.
On Thursday, Elwood Community Schools superintendent Dr. Joe Brown penned a letter thanking families for a month of flexibility and patience.
“Figuring out school during a global pandemic has not been easy, and I doubt that changes in the next few months,” Brown wrote. “One thing we’ve all learned is that things can change overnight, and we have to have plans A, B, C, and D ready.”
Brown said approximately 500 students in the district are participating in eLearning. Schools will stick with eLearning on Wednesdays until fall break.
“This will allow our staff time to prepare for the additional workload they are experiencing,” he noted. “Our custodial staff will continue to use this time to deep clean buildings.”
Brown said this model also benefits students should schools be forced to close in the future. Buildings will open to parents on Wednesdays to provide eLearning assistance. The preschool and Hinds Career Center will remain open five days a week.
Brown stated that many families are switching regularly between traditional and eLearning. He said this makes things difficult for teachers and staff members.
“Starting on Aug. 24, families need to commit to either traditional or eLearning through the end of the first nine weeks,” he wrote. The first grading period ends Friday, Oct. 2.
Elwood Community Schools have reported six COVID-19 infections; three staff members and three students have tested positive. Frankton-Lapel has had one student and one staff member test positive, though the cases were announced before the school’s reopening.
On Friday, the Indiana State Health Department reported 1,050 new cases across Indiana, with 13 additional deaths. To date, 84,317 Indiana residents have contracted the virus, and 2,992 have died. The state health department reports an additional 216 probable deaths, based on clinical diagnoses in patients who were unable to be tested.
Madison County reported 14 new cases in Friday’s update. A total of 1,160 residents have contracted the virus since March, and 67 have died.