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Amid Growing COVID-19 Fears, Rural School Districts Faced With Difficult Decision

A member of Monrovia High School's custodial staff walks through a hallway during the school day. (Brock Turner, WFIU/WTIU News)

Rural schools face additional challenges amid growing COVID-19 concerns.

While many districts have the ability to hold classes remotely, not all do. Data from the Indiana Department of Education shows nearly 20 percent of Indiana school distrcits have not employed 1:1 technology. Among those districts searching for a potential solution is Monroe-Gregg School District in Monrovia.

There aren’t any confirmed cases in the district, but they are keeping a close eye on the situation.

Avon, which has multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases, is less than half an hour away. While it was initially a surprise to have the virus so close, the district says it’s taking the threat seriously.

"This is an ever-evolving process," says Mark Jaynes, the Communications Coordinator and an MGSD teacher. "I’m sure that Avon had put a plan in place pretty quickly. Our plan for dealing with it now as it stands having no students or staff, or adults or anyone in the community effected by this virus I’m happy with the plan we have in place."

Jaynes says the district’s maintenance and custodial staff is already taking steps to ensure spaces stay clean along with providing more wipes and sanitizers, but he says it’s hard not to be reactive.

"Clearly this coronavirus has caused most of the world to be reactive, because most of the world was ill-prepared for this, but I think we have a pretty effective team in place," he says.

Jaynes says the distict still has to "to figure out how athletic events will be effected, how will our food service be effected, how will our transportation be effected."

STAY UP TO DATE: Coronavirus In Indiana: The Latest

In rural districts like these, decisions to close can carry additional burdens. While suburban and urban districts usually have reliable internet access, not all residents here do. That’s kept administrators from embracing 1:1 technology and the lack of coverage is something that could end up affecting students.

"The fact of the matter is, that e-learning is not something that’s currently available to our district so if we had an emergency situation that would require our schools to perhaps postpone classes or cancel classes for a period of time, I believe our option would be—unless we could get an emergency waiver from the state that would allow us to come under that 184 day guideline—we would certainly be in a position where we would simply add days to the end of the year," Jaynes says.

In addition to the challenges associated with e-learning, the district is also concerned about how students will receive meals if they have to close. While Avon has established a plan to keep providing students with meals, officials here say many parents drive from long distances, plus many work during the day, so coordinating such an effort becomes complicated.

Despite those challenges, Jaynes believes the district is prepared, and wants to reassure parents that student safety is their number one priority.

"We’ll be ready," he says.

The district plans to continue following "the guidelines that the state has already provided us in the event that we do have someone that tests positive for that virus. I think we’ll have an effective way to handle that."

Monroe-Gregg currently has 21 students and 10 staff members traveling abroad in Europe. While, they remain safe, officials say they’ll continue to monitor the situation closely. The group is set to return on March 25, and has not visited any countries categorized with a level III warning.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here. 

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mark Jaynes' name. 

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