Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Dear P-H-M Secondary Families,
As reported by St. Joseph County Department of Health (SJCDH), the rates of positive COVID-19 cases in our community have been steadily on the rise for several weeks. The SJCDH is concerned that an increase of indoor family and social gatherings over the holiday period, starting with Thanksgiving running through New Year’s, will generate even more cases going through mid January.
Therefore in a preemptive, proactive move, the Department of Health this afternoon recommended that all high schools in St. Joseph County “pivot to virtual learning until after winter break. Depending on their circumstance, each district may choose to have middle schools go virtual as well.” Click to read the SJCDH news release.
Because of the population size of P-H-M’s middle schools, the increase of cases also coming from this age group, and because these students are not cohorted due to course offerings and individual needs, we believe it is in our students and staff’s best interest to also have our three middle schools also revert back to 100% virtual learning, along with Penn High School.
For Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, this means all three middle schools (Discovery, Grissom and Schmucker) along with Penn High School will move to 100% virtual instruction starting next Monday, November 23 through Friday, January 15 (the end of the first semester).
Pending SJCDH guidance, we expect secondary students to return to hybrid instruction on Tuesday, January 19 (Monday, January 18, is a recess day for Martin Luther King Jr. Day). Please click here for a reminder on the hybrid weekly schedule model introduced at the beginning of the school year.
The only exception for secondary students who will not be going 100% virtual are certain Exceptional Education and Young Adult program students. These students will continue to come to their home school daily to receive their educational services. Busing and food service will be provided. The Exceptional Education Department will be in touch directly with these parents in the coming days with more details.
Penn High School students enrolled in classes through the Elkhart Area Career Center and Penn’s Building and Trades program will continue with those programs in-person. These students’ classes that normally take place in-person at Penn will be virtual. More details will be provided by Penn Principal Sean Galiher.
The virtual day for middle schools will start at 9:35, 12:30 lunch, and dismissal at 4:00 (office hours will be held in the mornings 9:05-9:30). The Penn High School virtual day will start at 8:55, 11:45 lunch, 3:17 (office hours will be held in the mornings 8:25-8:50). Building principals will be in touch with parents this week to provide more details about the school day schedule.
Secondary students who will be in-person through Friday should plan on taking home all personal items. For those students who are unable to do so, school principals will communicate arrangements for pick-up days and times.
While schools themselves are not superspreaders, people are becoming infected at/through social activities taking place outside of school, thus bringing the virus into the school setting. According to SJCDH, the best way to divert a surge in cases and reduce the spread among this population is to put safeguards in place for two incubation periods, which is 28 days; hence the timeframe of our virtual instruction period through the end of first semester.
The rise of community cases correlates with what we are seeing within P-H-M. An increase of cases mostly at our secondary schools and the residual impact of close contacts in quarantine has had a reverberating effect on staffing. Our middle and high school cases are double that of elementary cases. Click to see P-H-M’s cumulative total of cases since July; click to see our cases over the previous 10 days. Making a move to 100% virtual at the entire secondary level will help to alleviate some of the staffing challenges we are currently experiencing. This will free up some people in critical roles, such as substitute teachers and bus drivers, who can then help out at the elementary level.
The hybrid instruction model we’ve been using at the middle and high school has incorporated live virtual teaching for students who are home on their virtual days. Now that all secondary students will be home, students will receive live teaching every day for all class periods. Teachers will continue to use the virtual technology tools and methods they have been using since August when the school year started virtual. This has been very successful and provided students not only with quality education, but also invaluable social emotional learning opportunities.
This change to mandatory 100% virtual instruction only affects secondary students (grades 6-12). PreK and elementary students/families will remain as previously established. If your elementary student is in-person, they will remain in-person. If they are 100% virtual; they will remain so. If you have a desire to change your elementary student from in-person to 100% virtual for the second semester, we are asking that you indicate that on the survey that will be sent out to parents Monday, December 7th. We ask that elementary families wait until that time so that staffing changes can be made for the second semester beginning January 19th.
If your middle or high school student tests positive for COVID during this time of virtual learning, we still ask for parents and guardians to please report these cases to us. We send these statistics to the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) which they publish weekly on the ISHDH COVID School Dashboard. No identifiable, personal information is shared with the state, just the number of cases. We are also reporting this data daily on the P-H-M COVID Dashboard.
Please continue to use these valuable tools to monitor COVID symptoms and to follow isolation and quarantine protocols:
- ISDH Symptom Screening Tool
- COVID-19 School Attendance Quick Reference Guide
- CDC: Duration of Isolation and Precautions for COVID-19 Positive Cases
- CDC: When to Quarantine, When to start and end quarantine, Timeline Scenarios
We have more information on COVID-19 and P-H-M safety mitigation protocols on our website at https://www.phmschools.org/returntolearn.
Principals will be sharing information in the coming days on Food Service distribution of meals for secondary students. This information will be posted on P-H-M and the schools’ websites, as well as also coming from your building principal.
Per the St. Joseph County Health Department’s recommendations released today, extracurricular and co curricular activities should be paused or go virtual as feasible. “In the event these activities cannot be paused or done remotely, limit spectators to parents/guardians/siblings until after winter break.” More details will be shared by the middle and high school principals over the coming days regarding extracurricular and co curricular activities.
The P-H-M Board of School Trustees and I realize this is yet another change for our families; it is not ideal and we know that this impacts our families and students in a number of different ways. However, the health and safety of staff and students is our greatest responsibility. We follow ISDH recommendations and the guidance of local health authorities who have oversight over the school district. The best place for our students is in our schools; short of being able to do that because of the pandemic, we will continue to provide stable, quality education and SEL support to our students by every means possible.
Any family or student who is in need of social emotional support, please reach out to your school principal, assistant principal, dean or guidance counselor. All secondary staff will continue to report to their buildings during this time period and will be available during the school day to assist with problems. For after hours help, a listing of community resources, ranging from suicide prevention and mental health resources to dealing with COVID anxiety and stress, are on our website at this link: https://www.phmschools.org/parents/social-emotional-learning.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I hope that families are able to celebrate in a safe and responsible manner. Whatever we do now over these next few weeks will determine our course over the next few months. We want everyone to be healthy and do their part to reduce community spread so that our students can have a normal end to the school year. Please let’s join together as the strong P-H-M Triangle of Success to make this happen.
Dr. Jerry Thacker
Superintendent of Schools