The following are the words that Hamilton Southeastern School Board President, Michelle Fullhart stated at the beginning of the July 22nd school board meeting. She presents information on the decision to switch to a virtual start for the HSE Schools.
I don’t believe the decisions our school administrations and school boards are making are easy. There is data to support and possibly justify multiple approaches to opening our schools, so any decisions made are going to be considered wrong by some. Additionally, like the topic of wearing masks, this is a very polarized topic. As the president of the HSE Schools Association highlighted in her comments to the school board, we have kids, parents, and families that are already testing positive for the virus. We’ve had a teacher die. We need to keep this in mind as we move forward.
Here are the words of the board president:
7/22/2020 Virtual Start Decision
Two weeks ago, at our last board meeting, we reviewed the work of Dr. Bourff, his re-opening committee, and many other administrators and teachers in our district on how we would be able to open our schools safely with students in attendance and also have an option for students and teachers to participate virtually.
We also approved a resolution that would allow for our administrative team to revise plans when new information became available, since we understood that this invisible virus could spread very rapidly through our community. The data we were seeing at that time was showing that the number of people being infected in our community had slowed from previous months.
Last week, the administrative team met with city officials and members of the Fishers Health Department to help us be better prepared for when our schools open in less than one month. We were given a scenario to check to see if we the systems and procedures we currently have in place would be adequate. We were to use what we learned to identify gaps in our plan, additional training needs, improvements in communication and any other items to consider that would help in dealing with issues that will occur while operating a large school system in the midst of a pandemic.
We found this simple exercise of just two students in the same family at two different schools contracting the virus stressful, not just because of the tremendous amount of time and resources our staff will need to be doing outside of the scope of their normal jobs, but also the communication that will need to be made with the families that would be affected by it. Also weighing heavily on our minds were the many factors that are out of our control, such as relying on students and parents to be honest about symptoms and exposure and to follow instructions to quarantine if exposed and to do the work to help stop the spread of the virus, such as wearing masks.
Throughout this whole exercise, teaching and learning were rarely mentioned. The people we identified as having roles to play in this kind of scenario would not have time to do their regular jobs if they had only a few of these instances play out, and we have no budget to hire more people for these roles.
We are grateful for the Fishers Health Department for gathering the data, sharing it with us and the general public, setting up a convenient site that makes it easier for residents to get tested, and their help with contact tracing for those who are infected to help slow the spread of the virus. We are pleased that the city of Fishers, and now the state of Indiana is requiring residents to wear face masks in public, and are hopeful that doing so will cause a decrease in active cases and cause us to move to the next phase in getting back to normal in our schools.
We know that in-person learning is what is by far the best for our students, but with the recent spike in the spread of infection in our community, and the need to quarantine all who are in close contact with an infected person for 14 days from exposure, school district leaders could easily foresee in-person learning would most likely be interrupted and entire classes and schools would move from in-person to virtual at some point in the first weeks or even days of school.
It is not fair for our families to not know the plan for their children’s education from day to day, nor is it fair for our teachers to have to plan for both virtual and in-person learning each day, not knowing if their classes would be quarantined. We apologize for the inconvenience this is causing to our families and are hoping that we will only be doing virtual learning for a short time. We are looking to our community to do the work of helping to control the spread of the virus so we can get back into our schools.
We are very aware that data has shown that school-age children are the lowest risk to die from the disease, but our staff does not fall into that category. The staffing of our schools – teachers, bus drivers, nurses, cafeteria workers, and more – was also taken into consideration in this decision. Putting our staff back to work in experimental environments at a time when the viral spread is increasing in our community, not only puts them at risk of contracting the disease, but increases the need for substitutes to take over should they become sick. We were in short supply of substitutes before the pandemic and finding qualified personnel to take over classes when a teacher is out due to quarantine or a positive case would be a monumental task.
We have read the report from the American Academy of Pediatrics that supports going back to school in-person, and we agree that it is what is best for students. The report also mentioned that schools need to be flexible and work with their local health departments and be willing to revise and adapt due to changing viral conditions in our communities. We are doing exactly as they have recommended and have changed our recent plans because of the increase in viral spread.
If starting in-person classes in an untested environment was not one that could have dire consequences for those who may become infected, we would have been willing to open normally. But, our students and staff are far too precious to us to take that risk. Other districts in Indiana and around the country will start in-person classes and we can look at their data to help us make the decisions on when to move to the next phase, as well as the data about the disease in our own community.
Dr. Bourff and his team have put a strategy in place that they are working to refine to transition from virtual learning to in-person when the spread decreases. This is a cautious approach, and a much safer one, that is adaptable depending on the circumstances in our community. We are confident that our educators will work to make sure the virtual learning experience is much better and consistent than what students may have experienced in the spring when staff were given just hours to change their method of teaching and couldn’t access materials left at school. We are innovators in HSE, and I know our staff will be doing the hard work to ensure our students will learn. We look forward to hearing more about the plan from Dr. Bourff today and in the weeks to come.
As a parent, you can help us make this time better for your children. Regardless of what you think about the decision, if you talk to your children and have a positive attitude, they will make it through this and have the opportunity to learn and adapt to the changing conditions. In my many years in education, I have found that our children are much more resilient and adaptable than adults. It is our hope that this relatively brief time in our student’s lives will have a positive effect on them, shaping them into adults who understand that situations can change very quickly, and they won’t just adapt to new circumstances, but can thrive.
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Larry Lannan pulled the audio of Michelle Fullhart’s presentation and posted it. You can find the audio at the following URL: