Schools prepare to open amid COVID-19


When students return to area schools next week, they should expect their days to be different than they remember from last school year.

The first day of school for the four Dubois County school corporations — Greater Jasper, Northeast Dubois, Southeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois — and North Spencer is Wednesday, Aug. 12. So far, the plan is to start the school year with in-person instruction, bolstered by a plethora of new safety measures to protect students and staff against COVID-19.

The four Dubois County school corporations worked together to form a school reopening framework that included safety measures such as assigned seats on buses and in cafeterias and increased sanitation practices. Administrators at North Spencer developed similar plans.

“That sanitizing is going to be our first line of defense,” said Tina Fawks, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Greater Jasper.

Detailed plans for each school corporation can be found on that corporation’s website.

Individual school corporations and buildings will determine how to put reopening plans into practice, but some practices will be universal. For example, students and staff at all schools will be required to wear face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained, per an executive order from Gov. Eric Holcomb. Children under age 8 are exempt, except when riding school buses.

“Those masks are going to be huge,” said Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang.

Efforts will also be made to keep students in the same group — called a pod — throughout the day. For elementary-aged students, that means students who sit next to each other in class will likely also sit next to each other at lunch and play together at recess.

“It’s like we’re trying to keep students in a bubble,” Hochgesang said.

Pods will be harder to maintain for middle and high school students who rotate classes throughout the day. In those settings, social distancing and good hygiene will be even more important.

Both the requirements for facial coverings and the recommendations for pods come from directives from the Indiana Department of Education and other state agencies. For schools, North Spencer Superintendent Dan Scherry said, the directives force administrators to ask if they can meet the requirements. So far, Scherry said, his corporation’s answer has been, “Yes.”

“We’ve got to do everything in our power [to be safe], and I believe we are,” Scherry said.

As school staff and administrators prepare for students to return to class, their focus is on figuring out how to deliver quality instruction while working within heightened health safety guidelines.

One of Hochgesang’s concerns going into the school year is how much time the precautions may take away from learning. At Northeast Dubois, the plan is to scan each student’s temperature as they enter the building. That will take time away from morning instruction. He also knows that lining students up for transition periods and to get through the lunch line will take more time than in the past.

“You just don’t know until you get in the routine,” he said.

Hochgesang is also concerned about Dubois County’s status as a COVID-19 hot spot. He knows students need in-person instruction to get the best education, but he also doesn’t want the schools to make the situation worse for the county.

“I don’t want to be part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution,” he said.

As the first day of school draws near, school administrators and staff members are getting excited to have students back in class, despite ongoing concerns and the knowledge that the COVID-19 situation could change at any minute.

“We’re ready to get back to doing what we do best,” Fawks said. “And that’s educating students.”

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