Brownstown, Medora students to resume in-person learning later this month

For the first time since the start of the 2020-21 school year, all Brownstown Central and Medora students soon will be in school for learning.

Brownstown Central middle and high schools will return to traditional instruction when the third trimester starts Feb. 23.

Medora STEM Academy (preschool through fifth grade) will return to in-person learning Feb. 22, and Medora Junior-Senior High School (grades 6 through 12) will make the transition Feb. 24.

Superintendent Tim Taylor said Brownstown students and staff will have to remain diligent in practicing safeguards, such as mask wearing and social distancing, and it’s imperative for those experiencing COVID-like symptoms to stay home.

“At BCHS, Principal Joe Sheffer has created a schedule that adheres to the recommended 6-foot distance in nearly every class with the exception of a mere few,” Taylor said. “At BCMS, Principal Doug McClure developed a cohort system that mimics the pod system utilized at BES, which limits the number of students that a student interacts with to reduce the number of close contacts should a positive case occur.”

The middle and high schools have been on a hybrid schedule — attending school every other day based on the first letter of the student’s last name — since the second trimester started Nov. 9. The day a student is not at school is a remote learning day with learning and instruction taking place online.

The purpose of the hybrid schedule is to reduce the number of students attending school by half, which allows students to be socially distanced in classes.

Taylor said that was implemented after conversations with Dr. Christopher Bunce, public health officer for the Jackson County Health Department, when the county COVID-19 metrics moved into the orange category.

“While we did have some students quarantined with symptoms or as close contacts, spread of COVID-19 in our schools has been nearly nonexistent,” Taylor said. “This was attained through the diligent efforts of our staff and students to wear masks, maintain a safe social distance and adhere to other health and safety protocols.”

Taylor said Nursing Director Joyce McKinney has led the effort to track the corporation’s COVID-19 data since the start of school in August 2020.

The numbers peaked with 143 combined students and staff absent due to some aspect of COVID-19 (positive test, pending test, quarantined as a close contact or quarantined with symptoms) on Nov. 24.

The current number of absences due to the same COVID-19-related causes is 33 people, Taylor said.

Since the metrics for Jackson County also have improved, Bunce gave the corporation the OK to return to everyday in-person instruction.

“While our numbers have been continually improving, we wanted to make the switch at a natural break in the school year that also allows our families adequate time to plan for the transition,” Taylor said. “We are well aware of the pressure the pandemic places on our families and have tried to be consistent in our approach to instruction to ease the burden on them.”

Taylor said staff, students and families have been incredibly patient with regard to the COVID-19 situation.

“Their efforts to adhere to our established safeguards have been and will continue to be paramount in our return to traditional instruction,” he said. “It is also vital that our community continues to practice healthy protocols. The biggest reason for school closures across the state hasn’t been the spread of COVID-19 within them, but rather the staff shortages caused due to the large number of close contacts in quarantine.”

Taylor is ready for all Brownstown schools to be in person again.

“For one, we are looking forward to the normalcy that we have all been lacking in our lives,” he said. “While the hybrid schedule has allowed our schools to remain open and offer some consistency, you just can’t replace the difference our teachers make when they interact with our students in their classrooms on a daily basis.”

Medora Junior-Senior High School changed to a hybrid schedule Oct. 19 due to the spread of COVID-19 in Jackson County.

Last names beginning with A through J have been attending in person Monday and Tuesday and participating in eLearning Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Last names starting with K through Z have been going to school Thursday and Friday and eLearning Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

In December, Superintendent Roger Bane said he talked to his administrative team about bringing back the smaller junior-senior high school classes and staying hybrid with larger classes.

“We saw a decrease in student academic success the first trimester and really felt we could do it safely,” he said. “When we weighed the pros and cons, we decided not to make the change to the hybrid schedule at that time, thinking it would be better for students and families to keep some consistency in what we were doing. Plus, the county positivity rate was still really high.”

Unfortunately, he said junior-senior high school students are still struggling academically toward the end of second trimester.

“Our students don’t do well with the online instruction, and we don’t want them to fall further behind,” Bane said.

On Jan. 20, he made the decision to return to in-person instruction at the beginning of the third trimester Feb. 22.

“We have had a few elementary students doing virtual instruction since the beginning of the school year, but the majority of our elementary students have been with us all year,” Bane said. “All of our junior-senior high students 6-12 will return Feb. 24. I am confident that we can keep our staff and students safe to the best of our ability by continuing to follow CDC recommendations.”

Only those who are close contact with someone COVID-19 positive will do eLearning during the quarantine period.

“We are looking forward to having all of our students back in one place and being able to provide the in-person instruction that our students need to be successful,” Bane said. “We know this could change again if the county or state recommends changes. We are hopeful that the worst is behind us in reference to COVID and that our front line workers in all school corporations will be able to get vaccinated soon.”

Crothersville Community School Corp. has had all students — from preschool to 12th grade — back in the school building since the start of the second semester Jan. 4.

“We’re just going to stay flexible, and if we have to change, we’re going to change,” Superintendent Terry Goodin said. “But right now, everybody seems to be doing a good job and following the guidelines set out.”

Seymour Community School Corp. Superintendent Brandon Harpe said a date for all middle- and high-schoolers to return to in-person instruction has not yet been finalized.

“We continue to monitor the community conditions, internal conditions, staffing and local and state guidance,” he said.