Chesterton Tribune



Duneland School Board approves reentry plan

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The Duneland School Board approved a plan to reopen schools in a traditional in-person format that allows flexibility for families amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Duneland Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Pettit and Assistant Superintendent Robert McDermott gave a brief presentation outlining how the plan was formed and explaining what changes have been made in response to community feedback. The new plan will be emailed to Duneland parents today with changes highlighted in green, they said.

Pettit began by thanking the 91 members of the Duneland reentry team who worked on the plan, almost half of whom were teachers. “The plan as presented has been developed by synthesizing information from the medical community; listening to our own community, staff, families, and other Porter school districts; and by analyzing research-based best practices,” Pettit said. He emphasized that the plan will continue to be updated as the COVID-19 situation changes.

McDermott said 80 percent of Duneland families indicated they wanted school to start in-person in the fall, 17 percent said they would only send their students back for remote learning, and three percent said they would not send their students back at all, based on a survey that garnered 5,972 responses.

After the first draft of the plan was sent to families and made public July 1, the Administration made changes based on 2,896 comments it received in response to the plan. Mask usage was a main concern of those who commented on the draft plan, with 54 percent of them responding that there was not enough mask usage required, and 47 percent saying the level of mask usage proposed in the draft was excessive, McDermott said.

Pettit said the level system in the plan was changed from a five-tier system to a four-tier system, for clarity, and a chart summarizing all the major elements of the plan has been included. Level 4 would mean schools have to close due to COVID-19 and all learning would be remote. Parents can choose either in-person or remote learning for their students at Levels 2 and 3, when COVID-19 may be active but the Administration determines along with the Porter County Health department that in-person instruction is still safe. Level 1 would represent an effective end of the pandemic and return to normal instruction.

At threat Level 3, all students and staff would be required to wear masks and social distance. At Level 2, masks would be worn when social distancing is not possible. Teachers will be allowed, however, to require mask usage in their classrooms at any level. The schools will also undergo nightly deep cleanings, McDermott said.

Board member John Marshall asked if DSC has had any trouble acquiring supplies, and McDermott said DSC has been very proactive in buying supplies whenever they find a good deal. “At this point in time, we believe we have all the supplies we need,” McDermott said. DSC has amassed approximately 55,000 masks, 15 barrels of sanitation solution for deep cleanings, and 800 gallons of hand sanitizer, he added. Board President Brandon Kroft said the work that went into the plan and the detailed feedback from the community was extraordinary.

The community continued giving feedback last night, as 12 people, mostly Duneland parents or teachers, asked questions and made comments before the plan was approved. Among their concerns were ventilation in school building, locker use/security, staff safety, substitute teacher availability, contact tracing, COVID-19 testing, and remote learning accountability.

McDermott assured that all of Duneland’s active substitute teachers, save a few, have communicated that they’ll return this year, and that security measures will still be in place even though locker usage will be limited and many students will be carrying their supplies with them throughout the day.

A parent asked if parents will be notified of positive cases. McDermott said the Health Department will conduct contact tracing and families who may be affected by a positive case will be notified, though the School is precluded by law from releasing information about people who test positive.

Another parent asked about remote learning accountability, saying she heard “horror stories” of teachers who weren’t available to students this spring. Pettit said new accountability requirements will be in place for both teachers and students, and DSC will do its best to provide added support for teachers.

McDermott said that plans are in the works to help teachers prepare for the new learning environment via talks with the Duneland Teacher’s Association. Later, a representative of DTA thanked those who worked on the plan and commended the Administration’s transparency and listening ear. “Not only did they seek the input of the DTA and the community, but they listened to our concerns, and they adapted the draft to include those concerns in tonight’s presentation,” she said.

A CHS Science teacher asked how DSC will be accommodating teachers who have preexisting conditions or may be at higher risk of COVID-19. McDermott said the HR department will be reaching out to staff soon and accommodations will be made on a case-by-case basis. There’s potential that teachers at high-risk could become remote learning teachers, depending on how many students end up in the remote learning model, he said.

A CHS English teacher asked for more specific criteria on what will warrant another school closure. “Shouldn’t we decide how many sick people is too many before we start getting sick people?”, he asked.

McDermott acknowledged that question has been coming up a lot, but the County Health Department believes it is too subjective to quantify. “They believe working with them and with the DOE and State health department is best, so we didn’t feel comfortable putting a set amount of illnesses there,” McDermott said. “Your point is well taken, and we’ll continue to work on that.”

“You’ve got a Board that’s looking at these numbers every day. I personally have a chart I’ve been looking at every day for three months,” Kroft added, for his part. “Trust me, you have Board members that care and are paying attention. Four of the five Board members have kids in the buildings, myself included.”

Kroft said if or when another closure is necessary, the decision will be made “without question.”


Posted 7/14/2020




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