Here are the many steps one district took to stay open

'We’re nine months into this and we haven’t had one discipline issue over a mask,' administrator says
By: | March 9, 2021
At the end of February, the COVID positivity among students and staff in the Plainfield Community School Corporation was 0.1%.At the end of February, the COVID positivity among students and staff in the Plainfield Community School Corporation was 0.1%.

Keeping classrooms open throughout this most challenging of years required Plainfield Community School Corporation teachers to rearrange furniture with more traditional models of instruction in mind.

“After moving toward collaborative spaces, we went back to old-fashioned rows, and we also gave teachers permission to teach from their desks,” says Laura DelVecchio, the Indiana district’s assistant superintendent for student services.

“We really took a step back in time, but kids were in person and that was the trade off,” DelVecchio says. “Teachers we’re very happy they didn’t have to teach through Zoom.”

This reorientation of the classroom, which kept COVID transmissions between students and teachers to a minimum, is just one of the adjustments DelVecchio shared to help guide administrators across the country as they reopen buildings during the remaining months of the school year.

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Students in quarantine, and those with concerns about in-person learning, were able to Zoom into class and be a part of daily lessons. However, remote learners are not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, DelVecchio says.

“That was hard to defend at the beginning but our feeling was that if a family is concerned, we want to honor that but it can’t be a concern only during the school day,” she says.

About 5% of the district’s 6,000 students have chosen online learning.

Transparency is critical

Like most districts that have reopened their schools, Plainfield has implemented very strict COVID guidelines. Students wear masks, social distance and are not allowed to share school supplies or other materials.

“We redeveloped our discipline handbook to add a requirement of masks as appropriate clothing attire,” DelVecchio says. “We’re nine months into this and we haven’t had one discipline issue over a mask.”

Students have also spread out into gymnasiums so they have more space when eating lunch. Students stick with the some pod of student during recess and other activities.

Parents and families can report positive cases on the district website, and staff have been aggressive about contract tracing, including on weekends. Administrators have also closed all buildings to volunteers and other visitors.

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Another key to staying open has been transparent communications with community about positive cases in each classroom. The district now provides a weekly COVID-19 Snapshot of infections that includes the percentage of positive cases  in each school and the number of quarantined individuals.

Plainfield experienced it highest surge of cases during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when 2% of students and staff population tested positive.

Since then, the district’s numbers have dropped to pre-Halloween rates. At the end of February, the positivity among students and staff was 0.1%, DelVecchio said.

The district’s football team complete its seasons and basketball has just gotten underway.

“With your families and community be as transparent as possible to build that trust,” DelVecchio says. “They’re sending their children to you everyday and they need to know you’re taking every precaution possible to keep students, staff and families outside of the buildings safe.”

Tracking emotional wellbeing

While keeping classrooms open, Plainfield educators have also boosted social-emotional learning with a focus on the whole child, DelVecchio says.

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Elementary and middle school classes have morning meetings every day. On ‘Wellness Wednesdays,” students watch SEL videos, followed with periods of self-reflection.

The district also offered teletherapy through external health providers.

“Since we opened, in-person on Day One, we have witnessed students who are thrilled to be in class, for whom wearing masks is not an issue at all,” DelVecchio says. “Our teachers, even in a state that refuses to prioritize vaccinations for educators, are present, teaching in their classrooms while supporting remote learners.”