Education

New Albany-Floyd County (NAFC) Schools have joined other districts in the region by delaying the in-class start date by two weeks as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the area and throughout the state.

At Thursday’s NAFC School Board meeting, members voted unanimously to make Aug. 12 the first day of in-person classes. Students were originally set to go back to school on July 29.

The board meeting started with public comment, with many speakers in favor of either delaying the start date or moving forward without delay by utilizing eLearning. One of the first to speak was Carrie Klaus, whose daughter is entering her freshman year at New Albany High School.

Examples pointed to by Klaus included New Albany’s recent decision to have more city employees work remotely, and the Jeffersonville High School staff member who tested positive for coronavirus, thus forcing the school to start its year virtually.

“Until the local numbers can be brought under control, proper social distancing can be implemented, and the county has the ability to handle thousands of additional new tests, it’s not safe to send students, teachers and staff back into schools,” Klaus said.

Superintendent Brad Snyder lobbied for the plan prior to the vote, saying a delay would best serve the district. Five additional days will be added to the fall and spring semesters to make up for the 10 days lost due to the delay.

But Snyder is also looking at it as a “10-day reset” that will allow more time to iron out the details of the district’s back-to-school plan.

“Part of this is truly on the manifestations and rising positivity rates of COVID, which I can’t control, which you can’t control, which are real,” Snyder said. “A reason for delay is that, but it’s also organizational revamping and retooling. This day one is not like our last day one, so I don’t see how 10 more days can’t help everyone.”

Other changes in the revised calendar are the implementation of different learning plans for older children, as opposed to younger children.

Students in grades 7 through 12 will alternate in-school days, thus allowing for more social distancing. Students whose last names begin with A through K will attend in-person classes on Monday and Wednesday, while those whose last names start with L through Z will go Tuesday and Thursday.

The groups will use the other three days of the week as virtual learning. This portion of the plan will be reevaluated around Labor Day.

Students in that same range of grades who are in intervention programs or who have significant physical or cognitive challenges will attend in-person classes every day.

For younger students between kindergarten and grade 6, there will be two days in August focused on virtual learning. 

“Those virtual situations are, quite frankly, designed to drill and practice, kick the technology tires.” Snyder said. “It is in the realm of possibility that we get a case at elementary school X, then they’d have to pivot to a virtual environment. We want to practice that.”

Snyder was open about his belief that the district will likely see coronavirus cases throughout the year. In the event that a high caseload causes the schools to fully adopt eLearning later in the year, Board President Elaine Murphy said she thinks the district has taken the proper steps to make the transition a successful one.

“Our teachers have been working all summer long with professional development opportunities that were provided to help them learn the skills for the virtual piece of eLearning and the technology,” Murphy said.

“They have been working all summer anticipating that. 100% virtual could be on the horizon.”

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.