Education

More Southern Indiana school districts opened their doors for in-person instruction Wednesday, including New Albany-Floyd County Schools.

The district, which serves nearly 11,500 students, initially planned to start July 29 before pushing that date by two weeks.

Superintendent Brad Snyder says the district is offering a hybrid model to allow students to choose between in-person and virtual learning. About 79% of students are returning to campus for classes.

“We were going to make the best virtual experience we can,” Snyder said. “But then on the other hand, for those who are ready to come back and wanted an in-person experience, we decided to do everything we could to mitigate the exposures and put COVID-19 at the top of our list and try to make it as safe as we possibly can.”

Younger students who attend in-person classes will do so on a full-time basis. Grades 7 through 12 will operate on alternating schedules to limit the number of students inside the schools.

Students will be divided by their last names and will only come to campus twice per week. The other three days will be taught virtually.

Emily Caufield is entering her junior year at New Albany High School. As she arrived for school, she said she was a bit nervous about returning.

“I was kind of scared that no one was going to be wearing masks, even though you’re supposed to,” she said. “So I was like, what happens if they’re not, do I just come home or do I have to stay at school? What happens then?”

Snyder said the district will be flexible with families who may want to switch from in-person to virtual after classes start.

For the virtual component, students will log in remotely and complete coursework at the same time as students in the classroom. Dividing the groups up will help keep class sizes down, school officials said.

Lindsey Brown, a teacher at Highland Hills Middle School, said she will usually have around 11 students in the room throughout the day. Teaching virtually isn’t a concern for her. In fact, she believes the technology complements the learning experience in a meaningful way.

“I feel like I am a much better teacher adding this technology in,” she said. “Although I do not like the circumstances, I really feel a lot like I’ll be a better teacher. Just for example, all my lessons will be online now. Everything I’m doing now, I plan to still utilize in the future.”

Other precautionary measures taken by the schools include shutting off water fountains, utilizing gymnasiums as cafeterias and banning the use of lockers.

Some nearby Southern Indiana school districts had already reopened schools prior to NA-FC. Each of those districts has since seen cases of COVID-19. Six schools in nearby Greater Clark County Schools have been affected, and Clarksville Community Schools reported a case on its first day back in session.

Snyder adds that if cases rise in schools or in Floyd County, administration and teachers are ready to transition to virtual learning. Until that time, school officials will make sure students are prepared.

“We may be in school on a Friday, and something happens on Monday,” Snyder said. “We have to pivot immediately to virtual. And when that happens, I want us to be ready.”

The Borden-Henryville and Silver Creek school corporations also began the school year on Wednesday. The two are entering their first years as independent districts following the dissolution of West Clark Community Schools.

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