The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, July 22, 2020 1:00 am

Health official likes EACS plan

Praises use of face masks in district's reentry strategy

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

East Allen County Schools' strategy for the upcoming academic year got a verbal endorsement from the county's top health official Tuesday.

“I think this is a solid plan,” Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter said during a presentation to the school board.

The 10,000-student district will use strategies similar to those previously announced by other Allen County districts. Families may choose an e-learning option, meal choices will be limited, hand washing will be stressed, assigned seating will be common, regular cleaning and disinfecting habits will be practiced, and facial coverings will be required, although not in every instance.

At least one parent has asked whether families can sign a waiver to avoid the mask requirement for their children, Superintendent Marilyn Hissong said.

She invited Sutter to explain the purpose behind facial coverings.

“It's to protect everybody their child comes in contact with,” Sutter said.

He praised local schools for incorporating mask requirements in their plans as a way to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

“Masks are probably the most important thing, along with social distancing, in stopping the spread of this,” Sutter said. “I was really impressed by the way the public school systems got together with this.”

The EACS reentry plan should be on the district website today, Hissong said.

“It is a very fluid document,” she said. “Things are changing daily.”

The extent of the virus's spread will affect operations, Hissong said. She displayed a flow chart outlining what may happen when there is low, moderate and substantial spread.

Teachers will be trained to identify COVID-19 symptoms. Students showing signs of the illness will wait for their parents in an area other than the school clinic, Hissong said. Clinics still will be a place where students take medication and get bandages for cuts and scrapes.

EACS will work with local health officials when coronavirus cases arise.

“And there will be (cases),” Sutter said. “The numbers are such that it just would be completely unreasonable to expect that there won't be cases during the school year.”

Seating charts in the schools and on buses will be important in quantifying who the infected person was in contact with, Sutter said. This should help limit schoolwide closures, he added.

Board Secretary Terry Jo Lightfoot asked about the possibility that students might keep quiet about being sick out of embarrassment, given that a positive COVID-19 case could lead to quarantine for others.

“They don't have to self-identify,” Sutter said, adding that health officials will make every effort to keep names confidential. “We are not spreading that name around.”

Registration is Friday through July 31.

Staffing decisions will be made once the district knows how many students pick the e-learning option, Hissong said. The teachers union has been invited to help brainstorm ideas.

More details should be available Aug. 4, when the board is expected to formally approve the reentry plan.

Possibilities are more limited at the secondary level because of the subjects teachers are licensed to teach.

“The certification does matter,” Hissong said.

Classes begin Aug. 10.

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