WHEATFIELD — At the Kankakee Valley School Board meeting, assistant superintendent Alissa Schnick presented the changes made to the back-to-school plan after Gov. Eric Holcomb mandated face masks and coverings.
Holcomb’s executive order allows for children in grades K-2 to go without masks; however, with the suggestion of Dr. Marianne Nelson, director of the Jasper County Health Department, all students will be required to wear them.
The schools will follow the “yellow” plan for minimal/moderate spread enhanced mitigation measures which can be viewed on the school corporation’s website.
There are exceptions to the mask and face covering rules, including lunches and strenuous activity (recess, physical education). In the first plan, face masks and/or coverings were “strongly recommended” but not required. This caused some consternation among teachers, especially those at high risk.
The Indiana Department of Education recommends parents start working with their children to get used to wearing the masks. The department recommends parents with younger children practice wearing a face covering for short periods of time in the days leading up to the start of school.
“It takes a lot of repetition to develop a habit,” states the DOE.
The DOE also recommends parents talk to their children about wearing the coverings and why. Explain the face covering “etiquette” by keeping their hands to themselves. They should not touch anyone else’s face covering and they should not share face coverings with other people.
“The changes students experience at school can be scary to our youngest Hoosiers,” states a DOE fact sheet. “Take the time to reassure your child that the protective measures being taken are meant to keep students, teachers ad other adults at the school healthy.”
In some classes, a teacher and students can wear a face shield. Teachers can wear a face shield without a mask if they are able to keep at least a 6-foot distance. Teachers may also wear the face shield if wearing a face covering impedes a student’s ability to learn, especially for those in the younger grades.
Those with medical conditions where wearing a mask or covering is detrimental to health may be allowed to go without; however, it must be a documented and present medical condition.
On the school buses, face coverings/masks are also required, including for drivers. Students will sit in assigned seats on a single bus, meaning students will be picked up and dropped off at one stop. Field trips are eliminated in the yellow category of the plan.
A letter to parents from Dr. Nelson states, “Please do not send your child to school with a fever. Have your children wear masks before school starts to help them become comfortable with them. It will be particularly difficult on pre-K, K and first graders to learn the culture of mask wearing. Educators will be helping to remind students of proper wear.”
Teachers will also have to clean desks and commonly touched areas between classes, where students change classes during the day.
Nelson’s letter also states students who exhibit symptoms will be quarantined and sent home. Students who test positive will follow instruction from their healthcare provider and the CDC.
Contact tracing is done through the Indiana State Department of Health; however, Nelson wrote the local health department will work with the school nurses to help notify close contacts of positive cases.
Everyone entering the school buildings will be required to wear a mask as well.
Superintendent Don Street said the plan is “constantly evolving” with guidance from the state and the county health departments. School is currently scheduled to begin Aug. 12.
The back-to-school plans can change as the governor’s executive orders change, the Indiana Department of Education guidelines change and/or the county’s health department recommendations evolve as well.
Before and after school care will be available for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
The school corporation’s website, www.kv.k12.in.us, lists all the plans and updates as needed, including some frequently asked questions regarding the return to school.