School testing is rescheduled

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With the town of Vevay and much of Switzerland County without power since Sunday’s high winds, officials at the Switzerland County School Corporation were forced to cancel classes for the first three days of this week. Although power is expected to be restored in time for classes as usual on Thursday, there are still problems that officials are addressing.

“Our concern – obviously after the safety of our students – has been that this is the state’s mandated ISTEP week,” Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jones said from her office, dark from lack of electricity. “The big issue for us has been the GQE (Graduation Qualifying Exam), which is given at the high school and must be given sequentially statewide.”

Dr. Jones said that the State Department of Education mandates that the GQE test be given over the same three-day period all across Indiana – and that the same test be given in every school on the same day. This is to keep students in one part of the state from exchanging test information with students in other part of the state who hadn’t yet take that particular part.

“The problem is that the state ordered that the GQE begin on Tuesday and run Wednesday and Thursday,” Superintendent Jones said. “I called the state and asked what we could do, because without power and with all of the damage, we couldn’t have school.”

State officials, who were fielding calls from other school districts around Indiana with the same problem, decided that if Switzerland County went back to school on Wednesday, then the test would be given Wednesday through Friday.

With word that Switzerland County will not be in school on Wednesday, state officials advised Switzerland County School officials not to start the three-day testing until this Monday, September 22nd.

“They don’t want to do two days of the test and then have the students go home for the weekend and then come back and take one day,” Dr. Jones said. “They want the entire test to be given over a straight time period.”

Dr. Jones did say that the ISTEP testing being done at the other schools would not be affected like the high school tests, so students may begin taking those tests when schools reopen.

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As for the physical condition of the school buildings, Dr. Jones said that there is roof damage to Jefferson-Craig Elementary School as a result of the high winds. At Monday night’s meeting of the Switzerland County School Board – which was held at the Jefferson-Craig Firehouse because of the power outages – school board members officially passed an emergency resolution.

That resolution gives the superintendent the power to approve any repairs or replacements that may need to be done in order to save equipment or the physical building that could be harmed by water leaks.

The only other physical damage that has been found by school officials is that the cupola on top of the administration building was blown off by the storm, but that is being repaired so that rain can’t get into that building.

“Pretty much all of our buildings look pretty good,” Dr. Jones said. “Our school board, as a precaution, asked that local and state building inspectors come and inspect our building before students were allowed back into them. The local building inspector was in Jefferson-Craig on Tuesday; and the state inspector will be in our buildings on Wednesday.”

Dr. Jones is also a member of the county’s Emergency Management committee; and said that he has been very impressed with how different entities around the county has cooperated to get through this situation. The superintendent said that at the meetings the heads of all of the county’s volunteer fire departments have been reporting on roads that are in need of clearing; power outages; and other emergencies that are being handled.

“I asked Ivan Green, our transportation director, to go with me to those meetings, and he made notes on roads that were in need of clearing,” Dr. Jones said. “He then took that list and has been driving those roads to see if they have been cleared. At the meeting, most of the people have been calling the roads ‘car worthy’; but we need to make sure that they are ‘bus worthy’.”

Dr. Jones said that when schools do reopen, she will consider having a delay. That delay would allow school buses and parents bringing their children to school to drive in daylight, which would be safer than buses going down county roads in the dark, not knowing if more trees or limbs have fallen onto the roadway.

“It’s something that we will look at once the power is back on and we are able to resume our school year,” Superintendent Jones said. “We’re ready to go and anxious to get our students back in the classroom. We just need to make sure that we do it safely.”