More local schools are opting for virtual learning, at least temporarily.
Southwest Allen County Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools announced temporary virtual learning expansion last week. East Allen County Schools made a similar announcement Monday evening.
As of Tuesday morning, Fort Wayne Community Schools as made no such announcement.
All four districts continue to plan for a blend of learning opportunities long term.
East Allen County Schools posted this advisory on its Facebook page about 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16:
"East Allen County Schools will be changing to all virtual learning in grades 7 – 12 beginning on Wednesday, November 18th through Tuesday, November 24th. Thanksgiving Break is scheduled from Wednesday, November 25th through Sunday, November 29th. We are planning for students in grades 7 - 12 to return on Monday, November 30th; however, this may be subject to change depending on the community spread. Elementary students in grades PK – 6 will continue in person learning at this time."
East Allen County Schools students may switch from virtual to in-person learning or from in-person to virtual. Parents were notified of their options.
Changes must be made by Nov. 24 and will be effective for the second semester, which begins Jan. 5
On Nov. 11, Southwest Allen County Schools shifted to virtual learning at the secondary level through Monday, Nov. 30, following Thanksgiving Break. The change affects Homestead High School and Summit and Woodside middle schools.
Superintendent Phil Downs explained the decision in a Nov. 9 letter to the community.
“This decision was made because we are no longer able to adequately staff schools for in-person learning due to the number of staff quarantines and lack of substitutes available. This is not to say we have not had staff and students test positive (for COVID-19) throughout the district, but this is not the primary reason for the shift,” Downs wrote. “Today, we had 23 classrooms without coverage, 16 alone at the secondary level.”
Downs said all SACS elementary schools will remain open and no changes are proposed for our K-5 students at this time.
“Virtual learning for secondary students will be different from the stay-at-home order last spring,” Downs wrote. “Students will access their virtual education through the Real Time at Home format. Staff members will report to work in their buildings and will be facilitating synchronous instruction from their classrooms on a daily basis.”
Students in Special Needs programs at Homestead and Woodside have the option of attending in person or virtually.
Northwest Allen County Schools announced Thursday it would shift all onsite students at Carroll High School, Carroll Middle School and Maple Creek Middle School to remote learning beginning Friday, Nov. 13.
In a letter to parents, NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said the decision was in response to a “significant increase in (COVID-19) cases this week at the secondary level.” Elementary schools will continue with onsite learning activities as the recent increase in cases has been concentrated at the secondary level, according to the letter.
The shift to remote learning at CMS, MCMS and CHS will continue through Tuesday, Nov. 24. The district intends to return to onsite learning activities following Thanksgiving break Monday, Nov. 30.
“The confirmed cases are across all middle school and high school grade levels and affect both students and staff members,” Himsel wrote. “The information shared with us continues to signify that nearly all exposures leading to positive COVID diagnoses are occurring through activities taking place during weekends and school holidays. The recent trend started about a week after fall break and amplified about a week after Halloween weekend.
“Although the full-time remote learning option has been helpful to and needed by some families, we continue to believe onsite learning activities are best for our students. We are hopeful that this disruption to onsite learning experiences at our middle schools and our high school is temporary. However, in order to successfully keep our schools open, we need the support of our entire community. The most effective way to reduce the spread of any illness is to stay home and isolate away from others when sick. According to public health experts, wearing a mask, maintaining social distances of six feet or more, frequently washing hands and using hand sanitizer, avoiding large social gatherings, and frequently cleaning and disinfecting commonly used surfaces are the best ways to mitigate many illnesses, including COVID. These actions especially help protect others when we do not know if we are contagious, and these actions help protect ourselves from others who may be unknowingly spreading germs.
“With the cooperation and commitment that our students and staff demonstrated in adhering to our reopening plans, we successfully implemented onsite learning experiences for nearly three months. I have confidence that we can continue offering onsite learning experiences if we are also diligent in implementing COVID mitigation strategies away from school.”
Teachers and administrators will continue to work onsite, and a complete cleaning by the custodial staff of the three closed buildings was planned.
The announcement came just three days after Himsel told members of the school board that the past two weeks “have been rough.” During that school board meeting, Himsel said although the district had seen relatively low COVID-19 case numbers in terms of percentage of student population, local health experts believed about 90% of those cases were coming from outside school buildings. He said of the district’s total COVID-19 cases as of Nov. 9, about three-fourths were believed to have been a result of Labor Day, Halloween and fall break gatherings, according to ongoing analysis by local doctors and health officials.
“Those 11 calendar days likely resulted in the exposure of 75% of our cases we’ve had, and only 25% of the cases through the other 71 calendar days that we’ve been in since school started,” Himsel said. “… The days following fall break and the days following Halloween have been extremely difficult, and we are having to analyze things and make some difficult decisions.”
The district temporarily shifted students at Maple Creek Middle School to remote learning between Oct. 12 and 15. When that decision was made, the total confirmed cases represented only about 1% of the onsite student population.
Fort Wayne Community Schools will continue its blended learning approach in the second semester. In a Nov. 9 letter to parents, Superintendent Mark Daniel FWCS will continue to offer a choice of blended or remote learning for middle and high school students and fully in-person or fully remote for elementary students.
“I was hoping we could bring back middle and high school students for in-person instruction five days a week, but with the continued increase in COVID-19 cases, we will follow the Indiana Department of Health guidelines and err on the side of caution,” Daniel wrote.