Going back to school means a lot of preparation for administrators, teachers, parents and students. This year, however, that preparation looks very different. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Lawrence Township school district made the decision to postpone the start of school from Aug. 3 to Aug. 13. In addition, the district has moved to a hybrid schedule for secondary students, which means both virtual and in-person learning.
“Our decision to move to the hybrid schedule was with advisement and recommendation from the Marion County Health Department. The positivity rate is much higher for the older students. They are concerned that you are more likely to spread the virus amongst that age group, so the fewer kids that we can have at school socially distant could potentially reduce the rate,” Superintendent Dr. Shawn Smith said.
Design of school days
Students will attend school in person based on their last name. Students with last names beginning with A through L will go to school in person Monday and Tuesday, while students with last names beginning with M through Z will go in person on Wednesdays and Thursdays. All students will attend virtually on Fridays. By designing the hybrid model this way, the school was not only able to decrease the number of students in the building at once, but also the number of students in each class.
“It was easy,” Principal Brett Crousore said. “You have to understand, you can’t do it by grades because then you’re not decreasing your class sizes. This totally decreases your class sizes. It’s not going to be a perfect 50/50 split in each class. So one day one class may have 17 while the next day the other one may have 13. But still 17 is much smaller and able to social distance compared to 30.”
Virtual learning will also look different than it did in the spring. All students that are not in person that day will attend the class through Zoom or another video conferencing app. The students will be able to watch their teacher instructing classes live and will be able to interact with their classmates.
“We’re going to be live, so it will look nothing like what we did in March, April and May. All classes will be live. Students will be in school from 8:50-3:40, Monday through Friday. [Hybrid students] will go in through Zoom with their class [on virtual days],” Crousore said.
Students who do not wish to return to participate in the hybrid model can opt to be full virtual for the semester. Right now LN is estimating that 850 students will be all virtual for the fall semester. Families have until Aug. 27 to opt into the full virtual program. This allows students the chance to try the hybrid model and decide if they are comfortable with going back to school before committing to the virtual program for the whole semester.
“At this point, our family has made the decision to try out schooling now that face-to-face learning time is on a hybrid plan,” parent Kris Powell said. Powell has two juniors and two freshmen attending LN this year. “We are hoping with the approximate 50% reduced capacity, it will be enough social distancing to make the building safe enough to learn. My students will try it before we make a final decision before the virtual option extended deadline.”
Every Monday and Wednesday will be green days and all Tuesdays and Thursdays will be red days. Fridays will alternate between green and red days. The schedule for Fridays will be different than the rest of the week so all students can get extra assistance from teachers. Friday mornings will be dedicated to class instruction time and the afternoons will be set up as office hours so students can get help with things they are struggling with.
“So first Friday is a green day. We’ll divide up the Fridays. We’ll start the day with social emotional learning in students flex blocks and then have a green day modified,” Crousore said. “So students will go to their green day classes until 11:45 virtually. Then from 11:45 to 12:30 take a little break for lunch for our teachers and lunch for our kids. And then starting back in from 12:30 to 3:40, my teachers will have office hours where students can get extra special assistance and make up some things. Teachers are not going to be able to opt for mandatory things that afternoon because we don’t want to put you guys in conflict.”
Teachers can have students come in for assistance on Fridays, or they can have online conferences. By having this schedule on Fridays, it allows teachers to identify the specific needs of their students throughout the week and provide them assistance on Friday.
“Some teachers may choose to have kids come in to work on things for what we call in education Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions with kids who are struggling in classes. It allows them to get that work done Monday through Thursday, do some assessments, and then work with students that need assistance Friday afternoon,” Crousore said.
Class will take place virtually for all students for at least some portion of the week. According to Crousore, teachers will utilize Canvas, Zoom, and other platforms in order to communicate and educate their students. Although some of these platforms were used in the spring, everyone will be starting over as they navigate this new virtual program.
“We continue to evolve with Canvas, continue to learn how to use Zoom or other platforms. I’ve got people in the building that feel very comfortable using different meeting sites. [Teachers] will continue to educate you. We will work with them, but our professionals must be competent to educate the students both in person or virtually. That will be a learning process. It’s not going to be day one everyone is mastering all of this again,” Crousore said.
Although a majority of classes can be offered virtually, there are some classes that cannot be offered to students who opt to be all virtual for the semester. All virtual students can choose to come in for just that specific class, or they can find another class to take. Students in the hybrid model will not have to opt out of these classes.
“There are some classes that cannot be delivered through distance learning, things like choir, band, 3D art, weight training. They truly are in-person instructional classes that we are struggling to find a meaningful way to deliver that content through Zoom.,” guidance counselor Conni Sivertson said. “There will be some students impacted that, let’s say they picked 3D art, there simply is not a way for that student to access a quality 3D art class through distance learning so that class will probably be removed from the student’s schedule.”
Due to the concerns for social distancing, counselors are having to look at variables in order to balance the amount of students in the classroom at one time. This means they not only have to look at overall class sizes, but they also have to make sure the two hybrid groups are equivalent so appropriate social distancing can take place.
“We are looking at symmetrics that we typically do not look at. We always look at class size. We always go in and balance for numbers to make sure they are equivalent. This year we have two new variables. This time we have to balance for virtual being withdrawn from that in person setting and also then for alphabet to make sure that in person there is much more equivalency between Monday Tuesday days and Wednesday Thursday,” Sivertson said.
Passing periods will not be staggered this year, but they will be increased to eight minutes. Students will be encouraged to social distance in the hallways. In addition, Crousore estimates there will only be 900 to 1000 students in the building at a time, which allows the hallways to be less crowded.
“We are not adjusting passing periods. I’m going to adjust a little bit as far as some time. I am going to discourage congregating, definitely going to encourage students to social distance. We’ll have markings up throughout the school of what that looks like. There are going to be so many fewer students in the building to where we can do this,” Crousore said.
A big concern for students is whether or not school can take place safely. Senior Alexandra Cousin is worried about the safety of everyone, but she also wants to be able to enjoy this year.
“My biggest concern is how will we go about doing school in a safe way. Whether we go full virtual or proceed with this hybrid model, I just am concerned for our schools safety while also trying to have a great senior year,” Cousin said.
One of the major safety guidelines that will be implemented is mask wearing. All students will be required to wear a mask while at school unless they are eating or drinking. This rule will be heavily enforced by school administrators in order to keep everyone safe.
“The big one is going to be the mask wearing, and it’s not a chin strap. It’s over your mouth and nose. It’ll be a zero tolerance. That will be the worst. It’s either you are going to be able to wear your mask, or I’m going to send you home. That is my non-negotiable,” Crousore said.
While the school will not be providing a mask for all students, they will have reusable masks available. Students who cannot afford masks or do not have access to masks can receive one from the school.
“I’m not going to give in on the mask wearing. We are going to have [reusable masks] available,” Crousore said. “You’re not going to walk in day one and here’s your mask for the year. If students don’t have one, then [we’ll have them], but being very honest having been up there and the kids being there since July 6 with athletics and band, everyone’s got a mask. I think that is an unneeded cost for us just to give them, but we will have them available so really identifying kids that are in need.”
Students will not be allowed to eat in classrooms this year. In addition, no one will be able go to a classroom they are not assigned to be in at that time in order to help with contact tracing.
“There will be no eating in the classrooms because you are able to take your mask off when you’re eating. There will be no teacher assistants going to eat in someone else’s classroom and that’s for contact tracing,” Crousore said.
The school will have three eating zones this year in order to allow students to properly social distance at lunch. The cafeteria will have a reduced number of tables to allow for social distancing. Some of the tables will be moved from the cafeteria to the commons to build a second eating zone. The third eating zone will be for seniors only and will be located in the athletic hallway between door 11 and door 7.
“The other thing the community needs to know is that’s where masks will not be worn when kids are seated eating. When students are done eating and are ready to go, their mask goes on first,” Crousore said.
The school has added additional cleaning procedures, especially in high traffic areas. The building will be cleaned every night and throughout the school days.
“Our custodians do a phenomenal job of keeping [our building] clean. There’s just going to be some COVID protocols for cleaning and disinfecting different areas. It’s wiping down desks, taking care of that in the evenings before kids come in, and then high traffic areas throughout the day that will also be taken care of and addressed,” Crousore said.
Classrooms will not be deep cleaned between classes. However, students will be able to use a disinfectant wipe to clean their desk and materials at the start of each class.
“We’ve advertised the whole time that it’s not going to be a deep clean in between each class. Right now we have disinfectant wipes so a student can grab a disinfectant wipe before walking in the classroom and can wipe down their desk and things like that before they sit down, which, you know, people are doing at restaurants and other things. I don’t know how long that will be available. That’s right now,” Crousore said.
Transportation of students
The district is encouraging students to drive or be driven to school to limit the number of people on the school buses. However, buses will still be run every day. Students will have to wear masks on the bus and practice social distancing while on the bus.
“With only half of the students coming to school, we’re expecting the buses to be a lot lighter so students can spread out on those,” Dr. Smith said. “We plan to run buses every day to ensure that all of our students can get to school when they are designated to be in school. [Masks] will be mandatory on the buses. Matter of fact, it will be extremely essential that they have their mask on the bus, and if they don’t the driver is going to give them one.”
According to Crousore, students will be encouraged to walk to and from McKenzie Center for Innovation and Technology to limit the number of students on the buses. A bus will be available for students unable to walk. In addition, any licensed student can drive to and from MCIT.
One of the benefits of in person school is being able to interact with peers face to face. Freshman Jasmine Strelow is looking forward to being able to be around her friends.
“I am going back to school in person because I believe that it is safe, as we are only going to be in school for two days anyway. It would also be nice to see friends again,” Strelow said.
One of the major concerns of counselors this school year is the social and emotional health of students. In order to provide for these needs, counselors are adding resources in order to be in contact with students regardless of if they are virtual or hybrid.
“Counselors are mostly concerned about social emotional wellness of our students,” Sivertson said. “Being without contact with your peers is challenging and having a place to go. Having an identity with school. Having access to breakfast and lunch. All of those side benefits of going to school were really taken away in the spring and that has an impact on people’s mental health. So we want to really make sure that we have access to all students. The goal for us is to have programming in place so that no student feels isolated whether they are in the building or if they are doing their learning from home.”
The district will continue to provide for the wellness of the community through technology support, food programs, and more. Virtual students will be able to pick up a pack of five days of meals each Friday and hybrid students will receive packs of three days of meals each Friday and will also be able to get food from school on the days they attend in person.
“We’re certainly going to provide all the resources that we did during the time we were out for COVID,” Dr. Smith said. “So during that time we provided technology support, we provided food. We’re going to continue to do those things and do them well. I think the most difficult part of this process is not having our students in the building and being able to engage with our families. We’re going to continue to do whatever we can remotely and even in the building if we are able to get students and families back to us.We will have a system that will allow those students to be able to get all of their meals for the entire week.”
Athletics will continue to take place this school year. This has caused some concerns about safety due to the contact between players as well as fans. Strelow participates in cross country and track and believes, however, that athletics can still occur safely if guidelines are put in place.
“I am participating in athletics although not necessarily considered a contact sport. I do believe that there is some risk of corona being spread, but I do hope that we have a season. It will be disappointing if we do not. I believe athletics should happen, as long as the proper rules apply to ensure everyone’s safety regarding the virus,” Strelow said.
Teams will continue to practice every day. However, practice times may have to be shifted this year due to the hybrid schedule.
“Practices will still take place every day. Coaches are going to have to get creative as to what time practices take place. In the past, we’ve always had practice right after school. Practice may be later in the afternoon or evenings so kids can get rides back with family members. It’s going to look different, but right now we are going to still have athletics,” Crousore said.
Three of Powell’s students participate in athletics which creates a concern for her when it comes to the safety of athletes. She hopes that additional measures will be put in place to allow everyone to compete safely.
“Three of my kids are involved in cross-country and track. I think there are a few sports that may be able to safely compete. I am hoping that there will be more safety measures put in place at a district level and by IHSAA, even if it means less fans, less competitions, or a combination of the two,” Powell said.
The IHSAA has released a staging plan for allowing athletes to come back. Dr. Smith hopes that athletics will still go on as normal because of the role they play in the high school experience.
“We hope that athletics won’t be affected. We have a separate plan for that to social distance, clean. We went through all the stages where you guys couldn’t get in your locker rooms. Really going slow in that domain and praying and hoping that with all the precautions we take that we’re able to allow all you youngsters to participate not only with athletics but with other extracurricular activities that make up your high school experience. As of today we are going to continue with those athletic programs,” Dr. Smith said.
Procedure for positive cases
Although the school is taking lots of precautions, there is still a possibility that a student could test positive for COVID-19. If a student tests positive, Marion County Public Health Department will begin contact tracing and will contact families who could have been exposed.
“Marion County Health Department takes over. They do the contact tracing. They begin to identify what classrooms the student was in, who was sitting within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more. Marion County Health Department then begins the process of contacting families, letting me know so I can let a teacher know the situation,” Crousore said.
Although the school could be shut down if the MCPHD mandates it, the hope is that positive cases will only shut down a part of the school. The district is asking parents to keep them updated about their student’s health in order to limit the exposure of everyone.
“You’ll see [a positive case] will shut down just that portion of the school,” Dr.Smith said. “We will work very closely with the health department to do contact tracing to find out exactly where that student was and who they were interacting with. It will not shut the entire school down. We can win if we’re smart and do that. As soon as they find out they have a positive case, we’re just demanding that parents let us know what’s going on.”
Dr. Smith hopes the community will step up to protect everyone. He believes that if everyone continues to practice the safety guidelines that life will begin to return to normal.
“I just say to the entire community we’ve got to do everything we can to protect each other. Wear the mask. Wash your hands. If you’re sick, stay home. Let’s defeat this virus. One day we’re going to be able to overcome it and get back to normal, but we’ve got to protect one another,” Dr. Smith said.
Powell knows that these times can be very uncertain for everyone. She hopes that everyone can look past some of their frustrations in order to be flexible with everyone going through these difficult times.
“To get through this, we all will need to accept that there is a significant amount of uncertainty and unknowns, plans will not be perfect and may change (frequently), and we need to manage our expectations and frustrations, and be flexible. Everyone is coping and managing everyday life and challenges with a huge asterisk on 2020 that complicates every aspect of our daily lives and typical milestones,” Powell said.
Crousore hopes that people can consider the health of others in their community during this time. He wants everyone to be mindful of their peers and do everything they can to protect others.
“We just need to all respect one another. I think that is the bottom line. When I say the virus does not discriminate, young old, it does not discriminate. All of us need to be mindful of what we are doing before we come in, when we go home at night. We’ve got to be mindful because you are putting classmates at risk. And if you don’t feel well, don’t come. That’s going to be so important,” Crousore said.
Important links to visit for more information:
LN block Calendar
LN bell schedule/Friday setup
Revised school year calendar
Dr. Smith’s letter about the hybrid model
LT Schools Re-Entry plan