Chesterton Tribune



Duneland School Board delays school start and endorses hybrid reopening model

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Duneland Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Pettit is planning to delay the start of school for two weeks and open Duneland Schools in a hybrid in-person/remote learning model to facilitate social distancing.

School was slated to start tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 12, but will now start Aug. 25 in light of Porter County’s recent spike in positive COVID-19 cases and new recommendations from the CDC, Indiana State Department of Health, and Porter County Health Department, Pettit said.

After the CHS graduation ceremony had to be canceled at the recommendation of the County Health Department, all agencies aligned in recommending masks, and the CDC “doubled-down” on the importance of social distancing, Pettit said it became clear to Duneland’s Administration that schools could not open without the possibility of social distancing, and, as the Administration said before, social distancing would not be possible with most students in Duneland classrooms on a given day.

Pettit’s hybrid model would have students with last names A to K and students with last names L to Z attending schools on alternating days and learning remotely on days they’re not in school. Students A to K will attend schools in-person on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Students L to Z will attend schools on Thursdays and Fridays. The two groups will alternate spending Mondays on campus so each group gets five in-person instructional days every two weeks.

The Duneland School Board was supportive of Pettit’s plan at its meeting last night. Members were glad the plan strikes a balance between offering in-person learning and taking precautions.

“There is no substitute for in-person learning, so being able to use a hybrid model gives us the ability to change at a moment’s notice and go fully in-person as soon as possible, it seems to me,” said Board member John Marshall. Board Vice-President Ron Stone agreed. Board member Tom Schnabel also said some in-person instruction should make learning easier on both students and teachers.

Board President Brandon Kroft said, “We’re pivoting because we have to. Guidelines are changing. Numbers are changing.”

Families may still change their preferences by Friday, Aug. 14. But, currently, 68 percent of Duneland parents have opted for students to attend in-person. Pettit said if that number holds or stays under 80 percent, students should be able to remain distant at all times using the hybrid model.

“In a 25 student classroom, if 32 percent opt remote, class size is down to 17. If then students with last names A to K are in school one day and L to Z are in school another day, we’re now down to 8.5 students in the room on a daily basis. This will help us adhere to social distancing,” Pettit said.

Pettit acknowledges that the new model will be a “big lift” for teachers, but teachers are being given extra time for planning and professional development.

“Knowing that a clear majority of our community prefers an in-person learning environment and the CDC, Indiana State Department of Health and the Porter County Health Department all have provided recommendations to safely reopen schools, we are compelled to develop a delivery model that brings students to campus,” Pettit said. “With that in mind, the guidelines are changing by the week. We will continue to adjust as needed, and we hope the hybrid model provides a way to not just open our schools, but to keep them open.”

“Without social distancing, there is a good chance that one case could close the school,” said Assistant Superintendent Robert McDermott. With social distancing, he said, one student who tests positive won’t require self-isolating large groups who may have been in close contact with that student--close contact being defined by the CDC and PCHD as within six feet of each other for 15 minutes or more.

Six people made public comments following Pettit’s presentation. Margo Machnik was concerned about remote learning accountability and asked about live-streaming classes. Stephanie Wade, a parent of two special needs students, was concerned students with special needs are falling through the cracks as plans change. Rob Peters asked for clarity on data points being used to make the decisions.

One parent, who left the meeting before the Chesterton Tribune could get her name, thanked the Administration and the Board. “I just wanted to thank all of you for continuing to take into consideration what the parents want. I know you guys are in a horrible position, and you can’t make everybody happy,” she said.

Kroft noted the public comment section of the meeting is not intended as a question and answer session, but he encouraged parents to contact him or the Administration with questions. “I have answered personally every single email that’s been sent to me by a parent,” he said.


Posted 8/11/2020






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