Morgan County students head back to classrooms full-time next Monday

by Kate Evans

After months of mixed schedules, classroom closures and remote learning, Morgan County students will return to local schools on a full-time, 5-days-a-week schedule starting next Monday, February 22.

The Morgan County School Board voted unanimously at their February 16 meeting to have students in grades K-12 return to in-school learning five days a week beginning Monday, February 22.

Students get a music lesson in Paw Paw earlier this week.

Students enrolled in the county’s Virtual Academy will stay remote learners as long as their families prefer that option. The county has 540 students in the Virtual Academy – roughly a quarter of the county’s 2,188 enrolled students.

The school system plans two remote learning days a month so teachers can have more time to work with virtual students, Tuttle said. Two days of countywide remote learning are tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 3 and Wednesday, March 17.

High school students (grades 9-12) will head back to classrooms unless the county is red on the Department of Health and Human Resources COVID-19 County Alert System map. Morgan County hasn’t been in the red category for weeks.

Superintendent Tuttle said that she had heard from many parents, staff and community members that wanted kids to be back in school fulltime.  She felt that their move to start back to school a month ago with a blended model of instruction was the best decision at the time. Students have been attending in-person school two days each week, and learning at home the other three days. Students were broken into groups to reduce the number of people inside classrooms.

Right now Morgan County is green on the DHHR map for COVID cases, Tuttle said.  She felt all students could safely return to school five days a week.

“If we work together, we can keep the numbers down,” she said.

Teachers, staff vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccines have been rolled out to staff to age 40 and up.  Some 146 staff have received both doses of the vaccines and 13 are waiting for their second dose.

Tuttle said school staff looks forward to welcoming back students to school fulltime next week.

Tuttle stressed that there’s no playbook on how to operate a school system, run a school or teach during a pandemic.

“We’re all surviving the pandemic together,” Tuttle said,

Several urge a return to class

At the meeting, Matt Omps presented a petition to the school board asking that they immediately return children to five days a week of in-school learning and remove the face mask policy they implemented for students under age 9. Some 303 individuals had signed the petition.

Omps said that children are suffering and need in-person schooling. Day care centers are operating in smaller rooms with more children.  None were wearing face masks and there’s been no spread of COVID-19, he claimed.

Matt Close said the school system had put a valiant effort into virtual learning but it wasn’t working for his family and others.  The most vulnerable kids are being hurt the most.

“Please get our kids back to school,” he pleaded.

Dan James, the county’s Prosecuting Attorney and also a parent, said that virtual learning isn’t working for his family.  He supports children going back to school five days a week.

James said as prosecutor, he files child abuse and neglect charges.  Since kids have been back in school he’s had five to 10 cases a week referred by teachers, ranging from educational neglect to serious abuse and neglect.

“It’s absolutely alarming what I’ve seen in the last couple of week,” James said.

Those referrals often don’t happen when children are at home full-time.

Teacher concerns

Jamie Waugh, Widmyer Elementary teacher and parent, said that some bus drivers aren’t following the face mask and hand sanitizing mandate.

Widmyer music teacher Becky Herdering noted that some COVID-19 mitigation strategies aren’t being followed.  However, schools are doing a good job of providing protective face masks and gear, cohorting students and having classroom meals.

Kids are also doing a great job of wearing face masks, she said.

Board votes for full return

Board member John Rowland said all school officials believe that kids need to be back in school.

“Kids are more than ready to come back,” Rowland said.

Board member Eric Lyda said the earlier move to return under a blended schedule was appropriate under those circumstances.

“We’re seeing that people we know and love died of COVID-19,” said Lyda.

Board members approved the new full-time schedule, and said they would discuss the face mask policy at a later date.