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 Thursday, 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.