It was nearing 4 p.m. last Friday afternoon when Switzerland County Superintendent of Schools Rod Hite walked to the front of the stage in the Switzerland County High School cafeteria. In front of him was all of the staff, from teachers to non-certified assistants — meeting for the second straight day. Custodial crews, cafeteria staff, and bus drivers had been briefed in earlier meetings, but as the weekend came, the mood was somber.
Hite would spend the next hour explaining what a few weeks ago would have seemed unimaginable — there would be no school or any school-related activities for the next month.
The school system was to have had a one week Spring Break beginning this Monday, March 23rd — but because of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world, a break from school would start earlier than planned.
Hite went through the specifics of what had been publicly announced earlier in the day: the week of March 16th-20th would be an e-learning day, with students doing work from home; Spring Break would be extended to two weeks, ending on Friday, April 3rd. That will be followed by another e-learning week from Monday, April 6th to Friday, April 10th.
The hope is that the pandemic will be contained and regular classes will resume on Monday, April 13th.
The closure comes at the recommendation of County Health Officer Dr. Scott Frede, and is in line with other school corporations around the country.
“We’ve really got to stop meeting like this,” Hite smiled to his staff. “This is not how we want to come together, but at the same time, we started two years ago and I told you, ‘There’s always the why’, right? I want to tell you the ‘why’, and I think it’s very important that you understand that. Now, you’ve going to be in the nuts and bolts in the logistics of this thing, and how it’s going to operate so that you can be part of this team, because I’m telling you right now, we’re all in this together. It’s going to take a team to make this work for our community.”
Hite outlined some shifting that would be going on for the certified teachers — mainly that during the e-learning weeks, they will not be in their classrooms, but instead will be gathered together in a central location: SCES staff is in the gym; Jeff-Craig and SCMS staffs are both in that gym; and the SCHS staff is in the high school gym. Technology staff spent the weekend moving computers from classrooms into the central areas so that teachers have access to their technology.
The staff is available to not only take calls from students and parents who have questions during e-learning week, but Hite is also asking teachers to call their students and reassure them at this difficult time.
Why congregate the staff in one location?
“If a building, any building in our corporation, has a person test positive, even it’s a custodian cleaning Mr. Jessup’s old room, and we’ve got Greg (Curlin) down here watering flowers in the greenhouse, everybody, including the cafeteria staff and the custodial staff and the teachers and the non-certs who are here helping — all of those people, as required by the Indiana Health Board, are to be on a 14-day self quarantine,” Hite said. “So it doesn’t matter if you’re side by side or if you’re spread out across the entire building. Then the building has to be 100-percent closed for 48 hours, and I have to bring a cleaning crew in from another building to clean this building. So my cleaning crews are going to one shift, and they’re being split in half.”
Hite said that the cleaning crews will start in one area of each building and work their way in a designed pattern, extensively cleaning rooms while the teachers are in the central areas. Hite told the staff that once the cleaning crews are finished with a classroom or an area, that will be completely blocked and off limits to anyone until school resumes on April 13th. The superintendent told his staff that they could use Monday, March 16th as a day to move needed materials out of their individual classrooms, but once the cleaning starts, no one will be allowed in.
Hite also stressed the issue for non-certified personnel that no schools usually means no paycheck. He told them that everyone was going to continue to draw their normal pay, but that non-certified staff will be working in some different areas.
Some will be assisting the custodial staff in the cleaning process; while others will be riding with bus drivers around the county to address another issue being caused by the closure of the schools — food.
“We all know that there are children in our school corporation that depend on getting a school lunch and breakfast,” Hite said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we get food into the hands and stomachs of those children.”
Hite said that parents would be able to sign their children up for meal delivery, and that those requesting the meals would be plotted on maps, with bus drivers going out during the day for door to door deliveries, with non-certified personnel taking the meals to each door.
“There are people who are saying that the only reason we’re doing this is to keep our numbers up for our CTE program, Hite said, referring to the program that provides free breakfasts and lunches to all students in grades K-8.” Number count has nothing to do with that. We have the grant even if we never serve a meal. This program is happening because our school board saw the need, and agreed to fund getting meals to students 100-percent. Our school board saw this need for our students and stepped up to help meet it.”
Hite said that the meal delivery will be:
• Today (Thursday, March 19th) and tomorrow (Friday, March 20th) as it has been all this week.
• There will be no delivery next week, the week that would have been the normal Spring Break week.
• The second week, which is an extended Spring Break, there will again be meal delivery.
• The fourth week, which is the second e-learning week, there will be deliveries from Monday, April 6th to Thursday, April 9th. There will be no meal deliver on Friday, April 10th, because school is scheduled to be closed that day because of the Good Friday holiday.
Hite said that Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has given schools 20 days that can be waived from the school calendar without having to make them up. Under the current plan, the Switzerland County School Corporation will be using five of those days: the second week of extended Spring Break.
“We’re going to keep those other 15 days in our back pocket, because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hite told the staff.
By the end of the meeting, the superintendent took a moment to reassure his staff and to let them know just how much he appreciates their efforts.
“I stopped a couple of teachers earlier, our retirees,” Hite said. “And I can tell you that throughout the past three days, they’ve been on my mind more than anybody else. They said goodbye to students today. Nobody knows what could happen over the course of the next month. They’re saying that this is going to get a little worse before it gets better. Bringing us back together and getting to work side by side with those people for five hours a day — have a good time with them, help them enjoy what’s going on.
“Other the other side of that — and being a history teacher is why this hits me so much,” Hite continued. “You are living history. I told the senior class today when I went into their classrooms, ‘When you’re 45 or 50 years old, you’re going to look back and tell your kids, you won’t believe what happened when I was in school, right? We all heard those stories from our parents and grandparents — you’re living it.”
At Rising Sun, Superintendent Brandon Roeder has a little bit more time. Rising Sun students began a two-week Spring Break this week, so he’s spent this week preparing for all possibilities while holding off on an official decision as long as possible.
Roeder said that his staff has not had experience holding e-learning days, but said that he was bringing in his teaching staff this past Tuesday, March 17th, to do some training on e-learning in the event that it needs to be implemented once the Spring Break is over.