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Evolving School Plans With COVID-19

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>>SARA WITTMEYER: Hello and welcome to Noon Edition on WFIU, we are continuing to do our show remotely because of the COVID 19 pandemic. Today we are talking about (inaudible) situation with COVID 19 in schools. Bob Zaltsberg is out today so (inaudible). We are not talking calls for these programs. You can email your questions to indianapublicradio.org or you can always tweet us. Find us on Twitter @noonedition. Our guests today (inaudible). We also Jay Arthur with the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville. Paul Farmer is a teacher at Bloomington High School North and the MCEA president. And Andrea Mobley is the Monroe County Community School - Monroe County Community School Corporation assistant superintendent. Thank you all for being here with us today. We have a lot to get to today. And we'll also be, of course, taking people's questions throughout the show. I want to start by just asking a question and maybe we'll start with Andrea Mobley. But what are the biggest challenges running a school right now? 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: Hi, this is Andrea Mobley. And right now, I would say the biggest challenge is trying to get ready for all of our students to be in person. We're starting that next week. And we are ready to go for that. Our administrators and our teachers have been preparing for this day for several months. They've been preparing to have all students in person learning. And we're ready to do that. And we're excited to do that next week. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: That's something certainly it will be diving into a bit more during the program here. I do want to Laura Hammack, can you just talk a little bit about Brown County schools and the biggest challenges for you right now? 

>>LAURA HAMMACK: You bet. Thanks so much for having Brown County represented in this conversation today. Our situation will be different than some of the other districts that are on the show today, just for the fact that we are a small rural school community. And we have actually been fortunate enough to be back in school since August the 5th, which was our first school day. And we've been in session all day every day since then. So our experience is one that - quite frankly, this is our fall break and we just couldn't wait for fal break. It has been a couple of months that I've been mostly our sincere concerns are for our teachers and staff and for our students. Right? Because teaching and learning in this environment is unique from any other learning situation that we have experienced. So as far as challenges currently for our school district, it's making sure that we can continue to deliver in-person instruction while simultaneously offering the remote solution for families that are interested in that option. We have about 14, 15 percent of our families that have elected that remote option. So balancing both the one hundred percent in-person and those remote learners has proven to be to be challenging, but not overwhelming. So we just feel very blessed that we are able to be in school. And we'll be back at it Monday after this weekend. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK. And Dr. Arthur, can you talk about Martinsville? 

>>JAY ARTHUR: Yes, very much I would echo much of what Dr. Hammack just mentioned. We are probably a school district that's somewhere between the size of Brown County and CCSC in terms of comparison. And we started back on August 12 with a four day schedule, Wednesdays being a day in which we clean and we provide a great deal of professional development to our teachers and staff to ensure that we're moving forward in a safe and good way. We, too, have been able to be in person since August 12th with relatively few issues. It has been a lot of work on a lot of different community partners, as well as our our folks who work for our school district to ensure that we are all working together and that we're doing it as a community to keep spread down and to make sure that we can have the events and programs and to have school in the way that makes the most sense for us right now. So in terms of larger challenges, it truly is managing the day to day contact tracing and ensuring that we are as quickly as possible asking those students to quarantine who may have come in contact with somebody who's positive. I am super excited to say it wasn't until about two days ago that we as a school district have not had any positive cases within the district. We have had a number of contact tracing situations where we've had to ask students to quarantine or staff to quarantine. But we have been very fortunate that in terms of within the school district, positive cases have not been a problem for us. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: And Paul Farmer, you're a teacher of Bloomington High School North. So what has it been like being in the school building and in a classroom? 

>>PAUL FARMER: Well, first of all, thanks for giving us the opportunity here today to talk to everybody about it. With me, I'm the association president. And at this point in time with a grant and so on, I'm actually not in the classroom. I'm full time released. But I do talk to many, many, many, many teachers who are in the classroom. So I will relay that through their lens. One of the things Dr. Mobley said earlier, Bloomington, we're a little bit different. We started the beginning of the year where everyone was online, then we went to a hybrid schedule and what we call yellow. When that started on September eight, our elementary was full time, five days a week, every student. Of course, we have the online option that most schools do have as well. And so starting here for us on Monday, the elementary school continues as five days a week. And now are our secondary schools, middle school and high school. They're going to be going online our excuse me, going face to face full time, five days a week. The biggest thing I think that the teachers are seeing is number one. I mean, we are worried about social distancing, especially at our comprehensive high schools, worried about as many of those students who are coming back. We've got about 30 percent who are online. So that's going to be a little bit of an adjustment. We have had lots of conversations with our administration. We've taken care of hot spots. So hopefully we will have very few of those in each of the buildings. As far as like social justice concerns, probably the most important thing that I think that has impacted elementary through high school is curriculum. When you do a hybrid schedule and have people online, we have some teachers that are teaching three things at one time. They have face to face students, they have online students. And they have what we call hybrid students, whether they're Monday and Wednesday and not their Thursday and Friday. So they're literally juggling three curricular events at one time. And it's very difficult to do. So I think there are quite a few teachers who are looking forward to being full time in regards to we can get rid of that hybrid section. And so then they're juggling two instead of three. So that'll be a little bit easier from that. But obviously, you know, covid concern is always a situation that they're concerned about. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Yeah, we got a question earlier about social distancing. And maybe you can talk about this Paul and Dr. Mobley as well, which is how is how are the schools going to ensure social distancing when we're going to - all the kids being back in session on Monday? 

>>PAUL FARMER: I'll go ahead and say, from our elementary, they have been social distancing since September 8th when they've been back full time, so there won't be any changes with those. If we do have scenarios where a classroom gets - I'll use the term a little overcrowded, if you wish, the teachers work with their their administrators in their buildings. And there may be situations where a classroom has to move to a little bigger room. So there's some classroom switching if they need to. In our middle schools and high schools, they each have their plan. You know are they going to move a classroom or just some students going to move from this class to a different class while they're working? There are plans at each place. And, you know, this this - it'll be nice that it's going to be a short week next week for us, because our fall break is Thursday and Friday of next week. We can see where there might be problems and and be able to work on those problems as we move forward and solve them for the following. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: And Dr. Mobley how are you talking about this at the district level? 

>>PAUL FARMER: Sure, and I'd like add to that that when - in cases where we have had to do contact tracing, it's it's been nice to see that we, in most cases, we're not finding close contacts in school because our teachers and our students are doing such a nice job of maintaining that six foot of distance. And we initially thought it might be a little bit more difficult. But we've been pleasantly surprised by how well the students and teachers are able to do that. And that's because they put so much time into planning and organizing throughout the whole summer and separating desks and coming up with plans for how they would do things in the hallways and how they would do lunch and meals. So they're able to do the six foot of social distancing in most all cases. 

>>JOE HREN: Hi, this is Joe chiming in here in the newsroom. I just wanted to get a little bit more info from anyone who'd like to chime in just on on testing with staff and students. Is that something - you know, I mean, obviously, you don't want to create a situation where there's a spread or type of event. But how do you know that people are safe to begin with? 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: So what we've advised all of our employees to do is to do what the medical professionals have been doing for years and to assume that all those around us are positive and to be taking those precautions of wearing a mask, washing hands frequently and doing the social distancing. And then we do have access to testing here in Monroe County and we're fortunate for that. And I know there's going to be a new testing site opening up soon downtown. So we're fortunate that people have access to tests when they need to, and the testing turnaround time is pretty quick right now, and so that helps us to contact trace and to isolate and quarantine in a timely manner. 

>>PAUL FARMER: And I also think, too, from a teacher standpoint, administrator standpoint and a student standpoint - and even the parents, want to throw them in there - that we're all talking a lot about symptoms. And if you are having symptoms, that you are quarantining, that you call your doctor, you call your school, you let them know. Get to the medical professionals. Let the medical professionals make the decision. We do have a process - and especially with our nurses that - Kim Stevens that runs our contact tracing scenarios. So we're very open. You're - we're open about it. And I think that's important - the communication piece, I think, is crucial for people feeling safe as they come to schools. 

>>JAY ARTHUR: And for those who you don't want, of course, to come into school - and maybe Laura at Brown County, you can chime in - what about people to back up these other people? Do you have enough substitute teachers or staff people to come in for those who can't come in? 

>>LAURA HAMMACK: So I think you bring up a very important point about our response plans, and that is that this response and being able to be in school all day, every day, means that you, as a school leader and as a district deployment, you just need a whole lot more resources than what you would normally have during a traditional school year. As was mentioned, contact tracing is a - it's massive. And one student - one case can cause an entire day, and then even days' worth of work to ensure that all of the protocols are being deployed. And so to that point, it is just critically important, I think, that our communities understand that resource allocation is a very important part of this conversation. School districts were given resources at the beginning of the year through our Cares Grant funding - and quite honestly, without those resources, a small school district like Brown County would not be able to open. So we are getting quite concerned because additional staffing for our health service program - we have had to add to that staff. We are having concerns about our substitute teaching pool. We just don't have as many substitute teachers as we have had in the past. We are really blessed with some wonderful educators who are retired that serve as substitute teachers for us, and they are in that population that is considered at risk, and so they are not able to work right now, and that has been a significant concern. And then, really, that third piece, which is the financial resource component - we are getting to the point where all of those wonderful supplies that we were able to get through Cares funding - those dollars are being depleted quite quickly. Hand sanitizer is extremely expensive. And when you're deploying it everywhere, it is incredible how much those dollars can add up. So I imagine for a small school district as well as at Martinsville and in Monroe County - right? - there are massive implications for all of our districts. 

>>PAUL FARMER: Yeah. Jay, I'd love to hear your side there in Martinsville, too. 

>>JAY ARTHUR: Yeah. So we - in terms of substitutes and some of those issues, we're, of course, feeling those same pain - aches and pains. And to be proactive on the front end of all this, as we were planning back in May - June, as to how we were going to come back as quickly as possible and do it safely, we very quickly came to the conclusion that we had to look at our entire workforce and be open and give our administrators - our building principals permission to use people in ways that are not the most common ways in which they would normally use them. So, for example, you may be asking somebody who's typically reporting for food service work who may be working three - four hours a day - to ask them, would you be willing to work a seven hour day and fill in some spots where we need assistance? Because we did know or do know that, as staff get sick, teachers get sick, it's not going to take much for us to have to close as a result of those absences. I think another thing that oftentimes people who are not in the education world might not think about is it's not just teachers. It's secretaries who are - who have, you know, significant support roles in our buildings. It's nurses. When those people start getting sick, the organization really struggles to stay afloat. It's bus drivers. Prior to the pandemic, I believe most school districts - and certainly the two that are on with us can speak to this as well, but I believe most districts in Indiana are struggling to have substitutes in general for bus drivers, for nurses, for teachers, etc., and that's just where we find ourselves anyway on a normal day. To add COVID to that or a pandemic situation to that, where we don't have substitutes anyway to come in and support some of the things that are going on, it really does sort of slow us down. And again, our - what has worked for us or has helped us to be able to sort of overcome that is - as I said, on the front end of this, is giving people permission to do jobs that maybe they wouldn't typically do. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Today on NOON EDITION we are talking with our guests about how schools continue to adapt to COVID-19. You can send in your questions by email to news@indianapublicmedia.org or you can tweet us at @noonedition. We're not taking phone calls because we are doing the show remotely today. For Dr. Arthur in Martinsville, we got a question just about the way that your school has structured its going back to school. Because you started with e-learning, then moved to four days a week in person for all students. Can you just explain how that has been working and how you all landed on that as the best option? 

>>JAY ARTHUR: Yes. So we originally, back in I would say mid-May, decided that we were going to go to a stoplight system - red, yellow, green. And we had full intentions of starting our school year on August 12th under green, which would mean that students were back and in their full capacity with a great deal of protections in place and our plan - you know, all the extras that are COVID-related being in place. What happened was about a week before school began we had what I would argue is, in essence, a little bit of an outbreak in our community. And so a number of our staff ended up either being exposed to or were - had somebody in their home who was positive. It put us in a really tough position to open school. And I had one particular building in my district in which I would not have been able to open on the 12th, and so we - because of that, we decided that we - people were not quite understanding the importance of social distancing and mask wearing and all the things that we needed to be certain we were doing to open school, so we delayed our start by two weeks and we shifted to - from green to red about a week before school started. That two weeks gave us the opportunity to bring staff in and really get them up to speed on all of the medical facts and support behind all of the things that we need to be doing, as well as to educate our community through radio, news, those kinds of things, through all of our social media outlets to help everyone understands as a community that, if we're going to do this, we have to do it together and we need community partnership. And so that two weeks gave us that opportunity to do that. And so we did start in an e-learning mode for those two weeks, and that was a last minute decision. Once we got over that hump, we did go to yellow and we started on sort of an alternating pattern where we brought in 50% of our students at a time. 50% of the kids were here Monday, Tuesday, we were on e-learning on Wednesday, and the other 50% were here Thursday and Friday. And so that gave us an additional, I believe, two and a half weeks of bringing in smaller groups of kids to make sure that we knew what we were doing, we were doing it well, our staff were prepared, and that we were not inadvertently exposing people to things that we didn't want to expose them to. I felt very strongly since the beginning that I don't want to make our school district an experiment. We don't have any reason to be the first ones in the state to have our kids back first. That was not any part of our plan. But we did have a great deal of concern about kids being home any more longer than they would need to be at home. So our plan was a little bit of a slower roll into getting back to school than what we anticipated, but we believe that's why we're being so successful at this time. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: So there are so many different metrics to look at when trying to get a full picture of how bad the virus is at any given time. I know today the state reported more than 1,800 new positive cases - so the - it broke a record for the most cases in a single day. But I guess my question for all of you is if you can really explain the calculus you're using in determining what phase you're in - if it's the red light, green light - or if it's bringing all kids back in person - Dr. Mobley, can we start with you? I know MCCSC has this metric committee that's making these decisions. 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: Sure. Sure. I'll - first I'm going to start off by saying there's not an exact science to it. As you mentioned, we developed a metric committee of about 30 people that met over the course of several weeks to determine what metrics we would be looking at. That committee consisted of people from the Monroe County Health Department, doctors, parents, teachers, people from IU. And we've been in a lot of communication - direct line of communication with the Indiana State Department of Health, with Dr. Box, with Dr. Weaver, with Pam Pantones, who's the epidemiologist - Lori Ramsey, who's the nurse liaison. We have communicated with them online on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times a day, and with our local health department, with Graham MacKean from IU, trying to sort out the IU data and the impact of that. And then we developed a subcommittee that looks at the data on a regular basis - daily, that is - that's - somebody's looking at the data on a daily basis as it comes out. And then we have doctors - Dr. Loflin, Dr. Moore, Paul Farmer, Representative Petti Caudill from the local health department, myself, Graham MacKean from IU, and Dr. Winston. On occasion, the president of our school board, Kathy Fuentes-Rohwer has joined us. And Dr. Weaver joins us via Zoom on a couple of occasions. Not sure that she'll have the time to do that every time we meet, but I can't say how much I want to thank her and the State Department of Health and Monroe County Health Department for the constant communication that we've been in regarding this. And as you might be aware, we also hosted a panel a few weeks ago of local health experts with Dr. Loflin, Dr. Moore and Penny Caudill from the Health Department and Dr. Weaver and Dr. Hirschnalas. And so we sponsored that panel so that our community could hear from the medical experts. There's so many rumors out there circulating in the news, and it's just - it's 24/7 and I know people get confused, so we wanted to bring the experts in so they could hear directly from them. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: And Dr. Hammack, how about you in Brown County? 

>>LAURA HAMMACK: Oh, very much like the Monroe County experience over here in Brown County. We have a return to school task force that met and planned throughout the summer, and then we now have what we are affectionately calling the return to school task force 2.0 that is working on, now, day-to-day operational deployment. And so that task force led - and extraordinary leadership by our corp nurse, Holly Gordon. We do a daily symptom tracking of symptoms in our buildings. And those symptoms - ultimately, the percentages inform, much like in Martinsville, that stoplight approach to our return to school plan. So we also have a green, yellow, red deployment. And if we have two consecutive days of a building at a symptom percentage rate of 10%, then we would move and transition into the yellow phase of our plan. So thankfully we have been able to remain on green since the start of the school year. But the communication piece has just been so critical to the success of this deployment, and we are deeply grateful to our families for being very transparent about what symptoms students are presenting with so that we can ensure that our data is accurate. And ultimately, then we can deploy quarantine timelines that are informed by our state agencies. I echo Monroe County. I cannot thank the state enough for all of their support throughout these last months. They have been extraordinarily there, right? Just so present. And if we have questions, they respond. And then for deployment at the local level, our Brown County Health Department, which is very small, has just been our partner throughout this process. And quite frankly, we don't know what we would do without them. Just incredible people who - you know, we try to figure this out from a day-to-day basis sometimes. But using all of these data sources has really allowed for us to feel like we are making the most informed decisions for tomorrow - right? - based on what we know today. And I think that that collective community spirit has been something that - you know, we look for some silver linings with this deployment, and that has certainly been our experience here in Brown County. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Paul, I want to get your perspective just on - if you think that, in Monroe County, you know - they've been looking at the right data and how you think it's been received and is it - do you - are you comfortable with how the district is moving forward? 

>>PAUL FARMER: Well one of the things that the association - we're very appreciative of the involvement that we've been given from the administration. It's been a very collaborative effort. Many of the meetings, as Dr. Mobley said earlier - I've been involved with all of the meetings since last March, all through the summer, everything in the development. So we've had a voice in that. And so is everything perfect? Of course not. None of us has - have gone through this before. You know, we even talked in our last metric meeting that we just had this week about - OK, the metric we are using right now - could there be better ones that we want as we go forward that's more specific maybe to just our school corporation, not necessarily the county? So I think that's about any type of a program you have, especially - like I said, we - none of us have done this before - that you evaluate what you have and you say, is there a better way? Is there a more accurate way? So I think at this point, I mean, I'm - are we satisfied? I mean, you're never satisfied. You want to get more information. But am I confident that what we're doing - and our schools are safe? The answer is yes. You know, Dr. Mobley talked about this earlier, you know, every one of our cases that we've had in our school corporation, whether it's students or teachers, is irrelevant through a very, very high degree of certainty. All of our cases occur outside the walls of our building. It's, you know, the pizza party that the students are having on Friday night. It's grandma and grandpa or aunt, uncle - whatever - coming over to the house and spreading it that way. But in our classrooms - excuse me - in our classrooms, we are not getting horizontal and vertical transmittance. That's - our contact tracing and saying that, nope, it's not occurring in our buildings. So I think we are doing things right, but we could always improve on our metrics. 

>>JOE HREN: This is Joe chiming in from the newsroom again. We have a question from Twitter. How is MCCSC helping accommodate teachers who are medically vulnerable or have other health conditions limiting their abilities to be in school buildings right now? Maybe Dr. Mobley, if you'd like to start, and then love to hear from Brown County and Martinsville too. 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: Sure. We're working with those individuals on a case-by-case basis, and we're communicating with them. We're talking with their doctors and trying to provide the PPE that's needed. Or if there's additional PPE that's needed - if there are things we need to do to modify a classroom, if they need gloves, if they need gowns or face shields in addition to the face mask. We're working with teachers to provide all kinds of PPE that might be needed. There are some teachers who may be working in a different location because of a health need. So we take those each on an individual basis and work with the employee and work with their medical provider. 

>>JOE HREN: Dr. Hammack, would you like to chime in? 

>>LAURA HAMMACK: Yes. Very much like Monroe County, we are deploying our interactive process. And that all began this summer when we issued a survey to all of our certified and non-certified staff members. And in that survey, we were trying to get a better understanding for comfort and ways in which we could accommodate and what needs our certified and non-certified staff members were presenting with. And so we were able to have individual meetings with the school principal and me to be able to better understand needs and then ultimately be able to deploy those accommodations. Or if it required a full modification to a work experience, then I'm happy to report that we were able to meet all of those needs. And I think that that really helped with positioning ourselves for the beginning of the school year, not to say that that meant that all of our educators were feeling 100% comfortable on the first day of school. And that was not the case. But I do believe that in order to get to that point, once we were able to deploy some accommodations or full modifications to the workday, that once those needs were met, that was a better first day experience. 

>>JOE HREN: What the - yeah, go ahead. 

>>JAY ARTHUR: A very similar approach for the city of Martinsville. One additional thing that I would add that in addition to things that have been shared that we took on pretty early here was reaching out to our activate clinic, which that is a private wellness organization that we contract with our insurance that we provide to our employees. And so we reached out pretty quickly to them to say, how can we partner to ensure that when we have issues that might come up this year, when teachers are back, staff back, kids are back, how can we partner to work through these issues and best take care of our staff, but also make sure that we're doing things safely, we're bringing back people safely, but we're also bringing back people as efficiently as possible? So there's a balance there. And so initially, because the activity clinic would only, on a normal day would only be supporting people who are in our insurance plan, because of our partnership with them, they were willing to open things up to every employee that we have. So all 700 employees have access to that clinic as it relates to any kind of COVID condition. And that also gives us the ability to work very closely with the physicians and nurses that are - nurse practitioners that are attached to the activity clinic to have that back and forth communication, again, about when can we expect for that employee to possibly be back, what accommodations might they need when they return? Or for those people on the front end who were fearful of coming back, it was a really nice reason for us to say, why don't you speak to the folks that activate and get their opinion about how you might - you know, how you might be accommodated when you are back at school. So that partnership again, community partnership has been very important for us. We're a community that just doesn't have the, you know, the health care support in terms of size that perhaps Indianapolis or suburbs do or even Monroe County. So we really are leaning pretty heavily on them and we really appreciate their support. An additional piece was we also contracted through Riley Hospital primarily for our students, but we've also leaned on Riley for medical support and advice when we also need to make those tough accommodation decisions, modification decisions for our staff as well. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Jay, can you talk about just some of the concerns and struggles that students are facing right now during the pandemic and with the uncertainty of school as well? 

>>JAY ARTHUR: Yeah, I would love to. Our kids - probably thing I'm the most passionate about probably during this conversation. Our kids are doing really, really well, probably better than most people would expect them to do given the number of months that they were at home and the lack of access to things. You know, as far as with Brown County, we're very rural. Many of our families do not have Internet. So being at home for months on end and not being able to access the world is, you know, problematic for a lot of families. And so what's difficult now is that now that we're back at school is just the fact that we still have a lot of restrictions in place. And so, you know, kids are not coming and going as freely as they did before. Athletic events, you know, we've had to make some adjustments to athletics and how kids use locker rooms and what - just those experiences are very different than what they were a year ago. And we're trying to make them the best that they can. But I do know that those are frustrations our students have. And so we know that we're having to put up or need to put a great deal of effort into ensuring and assuring them that, you know, this is a short term thing, we hope, and we'll move forward. And this will be a thing of the past soon. But in the interim, we need to do what we can to be the safest and get over this hump of everyone potentially acquiring this virus and get to the point where we can return to some normalcy. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: And what about Brown County? 

>>LAURA HAMMACK: I love what Jay said there. The students really have been the - they - I'll tell you, when we were in our planning process, you know, and then ultimately we were able to be in school, one of the things that I was just very frustrated with myself in our planning process was that we didn't give the students enough credit in our planning. The students have risen to this occasion from being so good and responsible about mask wearing to being quite resilient when traditional experiences have had to be modified because of the virus. We - all of our principals would share that we have the best start to a school year that we've ever had in the years that we've been school and district leaders. I think the students were just so deeply grateful to have the opportunity to return to school that any of the changes in their school day were experiences that they were willing to accept as just something that we're in now, but that we won't necessarily need to experience into the future. They have been incredible voices as well. They will share if there is an experience where they might not feel totally safe or if they feel like there are ways in which we can improve our processes. And then they'll also share back, you know, applauses, ways in which they appreciate how teachers and staff have constructed their day. And that's truly, that's from our kindergartners all the way up through our seniors. It's amazing to watch the students be so resilient in this process. And quite frankly, you know, they have been just the best part of this entire experience. And we're just so proud of them. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: And the MCSC, do you want to talk about that, Paul, just how the students are doing? What are their concerns, their stressors? 

>>PAUL FARMER: Yeah, I'll echo everything that's been said already. Our students have been awesome. We do, we are finding. I mean, in the Monroe County, we've got approximately 30% of our students are online. And of course, it varies by the buildings. I mean, some buildings have more, some have less than that. But the average is about 30%. You know, no matter what teacher or probably what students, they're irrelevant. I think everybody would want to be back - I use the term normal. I don't like using that word right now, but back to normal, face to face in the classroom with everybody there. You know, as far as teachers, that's where you work your craft. That's where you get to do one on one with a kid and get to know them and, you know, be a part of their life. One of the things that is struggling right now for I think some of our students as well as our teachers is the online part. If you do have a student who maybe is not performing to the best of their abilities, who knows what? There are so many multitude of reasons why they may not be that connection piece is difficult. You know, we have our social workers. We have our counselors. We have our assistant principals and principals and teachers and everybody making their contacts. That's a struggle right now is being able to - what you used to be able to do in the classroom of sitting down with them face to face and having a heart to heart conversation is very different than having it online. And so I know that's a struggle that we're working with. And, you know, we're going to get better and get better at it and bring those students along. So that's a difficulty I think that probably I would imagine everyone around the state and country is experiencing as well. So. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: And, Dr. Mobley, you want to add anything to that? 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: I think what - they've all made very good points, and I agree with what they've all said. I would just like to add that I think we have learned some things throughout this process. And for instance, we've learned a lot about technology. We've learned a lot about who has access to technology and who doesn't. And our teachers and our students are getting better at using technology. And so I think that's one of the things that's really positive that's come out of this. And also that there are some things that we're doing that we may continue to do in some ways. I'm hearing from principals, for instance, the way they're doing recess now a little bit differently. They might continue doing that in the future. So we, you know, we all know that in-person learning is what's best for our students. But I think we've all been very resilient and resourceful and trying to get through these challenging times. But as I said, our students are doing a great job. We don't want to let our guard down. I've been talking with other staff members about the importance of, you know, maintaining vigilance. And as we've been in school for a few weeks, we don't want to let our guard down. We know we still have the social distance and wear masks and wash hands frequently and do all of those things. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: I have a - I have a fourth grader who is doing the online option. I do feel very fortunate that he is able to do that. But something I personally worry about is just if there's going to be an achievement gap between in-person and online. And Dr. Mobley, how are you making sure that there's not? That they're going to be both learning at the same level? 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: Well, we know the online learning in the spring was not ideal. We all had to basically turn on a dime and try to make the best of that situation. So definitely right now, our standards are much higher for the online learning than what they were in the spring. We want to guarantee that no matter what the students experience is, whether it's online or in person, we want to try to make it the best learning experience as possible. So we definitely have higher standards for what that looks like now than what we did in the spring. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: And we got another question about how attendance has changed with so many students doing online learning in MCSC. Can you take that one too Dr. Mobley? 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: I guess - I'm not sure that I understand what the question is. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: How attendance has changed? So I'm assuming, I guess how are kids counted, present or absent? 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: Yes, we've had to modify that a little bit because the state came down with some new codes in terms of counting attendance. And we also know that with students in the hybrid situation, we are giving them more time to get the assignment done in case they can't log on at the time the classes being taught with synchronous learning. If we have options, if their schedule doesn't allow that, or if, you know, the family doesn't have the means to do the online during the day, they were giving them longer to get an assignment done to be counted as present for that class. So we've made some adjustments that way. And I have to admit, I've heard from teachers that it's very challenging to follow up with that on when students are in hybrid because they are having to go back the next day or two to see if they did the assignment to mark that they were present. So hopefully, as we transition out of the hybrid and to in-person, that extra challenge will be alleviated from teachers. 

>>PAUL FARMER: I'll add something really quick with that, too. You know, it's one of those things as Dr. Mobley has said that the state handed down certain rules for new recording issues and so on and so forth. And I have to chuckle. I mean, it just is. A lot of things that come down from the state that they think that it's going to be easy or that it's going to simplify things. Well, it doesn't. And so it is a harder thing for our teachers, as Dr. Mobley said, that recording of attendance. You know, sometimes you have to go back a day or two days back because the kids are participating in that and, you know, to be able to record those. So it does become difficult. We understand why we need to do it for accountability purposes and attendance and so on. But it is hard to do for a lot of the teachers to do that. Like Dr. Mobley said, I think going full board with each other, I think that will be very beneficial that they don't have to go back as much. 

>>JOE HREN: I wanted to chime in here. Dr. Hammack, maybe if you can talk a little bit about standardized testing and how that will be planned and worked on coming up here. 

>>LAURA HAMMACK: So you bring up a sincere challenge and something that has been on our minds since the beginning of the school year, the ability to deploy standardized assessments in an online format really are - there are protocols that are currently even being developed yet - right? - that we are waiting in order to make sure that we then ultimately will deploy assessments correctly and in a way that would ensure that those assessments are valid and reliable. We have been spending, having lots and lots of conversations and then ultimately deploying assessments currently to be able to analyze where our students are performing now. So much more of a formative deployment of assessments where we are spending a lot of time at the beginning of the school year to better understand that gap that happened in March, April and May of the school year and how we have students that are presenting with pretty significant gaps if they were not able to engage in remote learning when we ultimately deployed in the spring. So all of this is massively important. And we are struggling with making sure that our remote learners are able to access these assessment opportunities, just like our students who are reporting to school in person. So like everything with this, we have - innovation is quite important to the conversation. So we have certainly not given up. But this is a problem. And as we look at how accountability measures are ultimately impacting school districts this year when we're still struggling with format, that's a real concern for us and I would imagine for the other school districts that are also on the call. 

>>JOE HREN: Yeah, how about in Martinsville? 

>>JAY ARTHUR: Again, I would echo the same things that Dr. Hammack did. You know, we - I would probably go a little bit more out on a limb in terms of questioning the validity of state assessment after a COVID cycle. I'm not certain that investment in those dollars into that test makes a lot of sense. We, too, agree that formative assessment is really what's going to give us the information or does give us the information that we need from week to week, month to month for our kids as they sit in their chairs and are learning in the moment. You know, in a normal year, that assessment data is a snapshot. It's, in my opinion, not always that useful to the day to day work that we do and what we ask of our teachers. And I know that a large number of educators feel that same way. It is what it is. It's part of the statute. But I do - I would call upon our elected leaders to think very deeply about this being a year in which we again do something alternatively rather than use state dollars to pay for an assessment, that's really probably not going to give us a good measure or useful measure, I guess I should say, of how students are doing. I do think we need to lean on our local formative assessment and go from there in terms of the instruction that we're providing. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: For Dr. Mobley - I apologize, Joe. The question is, when will - how will the MCC decide if it's necessary to move back to yellow or even red? And do you see the upcoming holidays as a potential issue? 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: Well, our Metrics Subcommittee will meet to look at the data, as we've been doing in the past and will rely on our doctors, will rely on the health department and the State Health Department to help us if we need assistance in that. And I know they'll be there for us. And yes, we do think about the upcoming fall break and think about the Thanksgiving holiday coming up. And, you know, we want to make sure that our students and our staff and our families are, you know, thinking about what they do outside of school that could have an impact on our ability to remain in school. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: And is MCSC considering a schedule like I use, the question is it normally mirrors I use pretty closely? 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: Well, I understand that IU is going to all students remote learning at Thanksgiving and then coming back sometime in February. We are not considering that at this point just to do it at this point. But if we - if it's necessary and if the data calls for us to do that, and if the experts tell us that's what we need to do, then of course, or we would do that. But we'll rely on the data and we'll rely on the experts. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK, and we just have a couple minutes left of our program here, but I want to give each of you just a few minutes here at the end to just talk about what you hope for the next coming weeks, for your school districts, for teachers, staff and for students. Dr. Hammack, do you want to start? 

>>LAURA HAMMACK: Sure. I'm happy to start. I think it was mentioned a little bit earlier that, you know, we're entering this phase of flu season and returning from breaks and opportunities where travel might be more present than normal. And I think that's something that is sincerely on our minds. So, again, it's all just part of our process, though. The way in which we are taking each day is data and making informed decisions for what we need to do tomorrow will continue to be deployed. And though we have those things on our minds, we will work our process. And then if we need to change our plan, we'll do that. But for now, you know, we've got a good couple of months under our belt. And we have gotten some things wrong for sure, but we have fixed those things and then try to do better. But we've also gotten some things right, right? So... 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK. And... 

>>LAURA HAMMACK: Sorry. Sorry. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK. Dr. Arthur, if we can go to you. And then Dr. Mobley, we have about... 

>>JAY ARTHUR: Yes. So I think one of the most amazing things right now is what we touched on this earlier is the fact that we have an opportunity to weed the garden. And so I've encouraged as things have slowed down a little bit in terms of all the chaos of getting school started, now that we are started, we've been able to have some conversations internally about how do we weed the garden. And the things that we've put on hold, do we really want to bring all of these things back exactly the way that they were? So it's really an opportunity for us to become extremely innovative, in my opinion. And I know that a number of things will come back. They're based on tradition, and they're good things to do. But again, it's also an opportunity. It's a great opportunity for us to take a look at our structures and how we support kids in our community and make some tough decisions. Do we really want to do things exactly the way that we did, or do we make some changes now that will take us into the future decades? 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK, and the last word, Dr. Mobley. 

>>ANDREA MOBLEY: Yes, we're looking forward to what in many ways will be the first day of in-person school for many of our students. And we're looking forward to that. And while we won't - we know it won't be normal. We want it to be as normal as it possibly can be for our students and our staff under these circumstances. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK, Monroe County starting in the green phase on Monday. I want to thank our guests for joining us today. That is all the time we have for today's WFIU's NOON EDITION. For co-host Joe Hren, producers Bente Bouthier and John Bailey, engineer Matt Stonecipher and Mike Paskash. I'm Sara Wittmeyer. This has been NOON EDITION. 

>>: (MUSIC PLAYING) 

>>UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: NOON EDITION is a production of WFIU Public Radio, a podcast of this program is available at wfiu.org/noonedition. Production support comes from Smithville, fiber, Internet, streaming TV, home security and automation in southern Indiana. More information at Smithville.com. And from Bloomington Health Foundation, partnering with local organizations and citizens to invest in programs that address our communities' health needs. Bloomington Health Foundation, improving Health and well-being takes a community. More at bloomhf.org.

school halway

(Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News)

Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.

Since Indiana has moved to stage 5 in Governor Holcomb’s “Back-On-Track” plan, many schools are struggling to bring students back to schools.

Most districts started the year with a hybrid learning model. But the method has proved difficult for educators to maintain.

Yet with plans shifting toward in-person instruction, many teachers worry about their own health and the health of their students. 

The state made public COVID-19 data from schools early in October. The dashboard is updated every Monday.

Teacher Unions say the dashboard is key to preventing the spread of misinformation about what’s happening in schools. 

So far, the dashboard shows that most COVID-19 spread among students has been reported among middle and high school students.

This week, we’re talking about how the virus continues to affect students and teachers.

You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at news@indianapublicmedia.org.

Note-This week of our guests and hosts will participate remotely to avoid risk of spreading infection. Because of this we will not be able to take callers live on-air.

Guests

Laura Hammack, Brown County Schools superintendent 

Jay Arthur, Metropolitan School District of Martinsville superintendent

Paul Farmer, teacher Bloomington High School North, MCEA President

Andrea Mobley, Monroe County Community School Corporation assistant superintendent

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