Every morning, Seymour High School students and staff receive an email from Assistant Principal Talmadge Reasoner asking them how they feel and if they are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever, cough or sore throat.
They are to complete the self-assessment every day before coming to school. If they answer yes to any of the questions, they are supposed to stay home.
As of last week, around 750 students were responding, or about half of the student population, said Principal Greg Prange.
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That number isn’t where it needs to be, he said.
There have been positive cases of COVID-19 from the school that have had to go into quarantine, Prange said, a process monitored by both the school and the county health department.
The daily health survey is just one of many ways SHS has made adjustments to reopen schools after a four-month closure due to the pandemic. Every change is to keep students and staff healthy and safe during uncertain and unprecedented times, Prange said.
The school is following guidance from the Jackson County Health Department, Schneck Medical Center, Indiana State Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Ultimately, whether or not we get to stay in school comes down to each and every one of us following the rules,” he said.
And from what he can tell, students genuinely want to be in school.
“They realized how much they took school for granted,” he said. “That all changed last March when they couldn’t be here.”
Talking to students, Prange said many have expressed their gratitude for what the school has done to allow them to come back.
He knows it’s not a perfect situation and administrators and staff continue to tweak procedures as the days go by, but he believes they are doing everything they can.
One of the biggest concerns and challenges for the school is how to socially distance more than 1,500 students in a facility designed for 1,200 to 1,300 students.
Desks have been spaced farther apart in classrooms, hallways have been divided to keep students walking to the right side and only three students are allowed to sit together per table in the cafeteria.
A fourth 30-minute lunch period has been added, and the school has even brought in tents, picnic tables and park benches and created an outdoor eating court just outside the cafeteria.
Prange said last week, they began releasing students from lunch at staggered times to keep from overcrowding the halls.
But he knows there are still some issues.
A recent picture shared on social media showed a crowded hallway where students are not able to observe social distancing guidelines.
“Obviously, there are pinch points around the school that aren’t as conducive to good traffic flow,” he said. “We have a bottleneck where the three stairwells intersect with the bridge that connects the 300 building with the bus lobby.”
The school plans to add new hallways as part of a major construction project, but that work is still a couple of years out.
To keep students from congregating in the hallways, the school is asking students not to use their locker and to carry their items with them in a backpack. Also, restroom breaks are to be taken during classtime, not passing periods, to control the number of students using the restrooms at one time, Prange said.
In some ways, students are doing far better than administrators had imagined they would, and Prange said he is very proud of the effort and flexibility they have shown so far, especially when it comes to wearing masks. All students and staff are required to wear masks during the school day except when eating or drinking.
Prange said he was concerned masks would be a major issue, but so far, that hasn’t been the case.
“Sometimes, we have to remind them to pull it up over their nose, but in all, they have done a good job,” he said.
Prange said at any time, the governor could order schools to close and the corporation would have to revert to remote learning for all students. Currently, about 200 high school students are receiving their education virtually.
“We don’t want to have to close school and lose out on everything we did last year, like the choir and band concerts, the prom, athletics and other events that make school fun,” he said. “But we certainly do not want anyone to get sick.”
Senior Maelee Oakes says even with the precautions, she still doesn’t feel protected from the virus at school, and the current environment is not ideal for learning.
“I feel overwhelmed with having to stay away from my friends while in class,” she said of social distancing.
But she doesn’t want to go back to eLearning or remote learning, either.
Having breathing issues not related to COVID, Oakes said wearing masks all day is a struggle.
She understands school can’t be normal, but she still has concerns.
“The hallways are completely overcrowded still, they aren’t releasing us from classes a few at a time like they should, there are four lunches now, but it’s still kind of full,” she said. “I’m nervous that the school is going to be shut down again.”