Last week, Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered Indiana schools to close through at least May 1 in an attempt to slow the coronavirus pandemic. He said it would take a miracle for students to return to the classroom this academic year.
Carmel Clay Schools Supt. Michael Beresford – a self-proclaimed optimist – has faith that it could happen.
“I believe in miracles,” Beresford said. “If there’s a community anywhere that could do this right, I think this county is the place to do that. I want to see the kids in the schools before the end of the year. I still want to be on the curb waving to the buses when they go home on the last day.”
But with the school year set to end May 28 and much uncertainty surrounding the impact of the pandemic in Indiana, Beresford said CCS will be ready for anything.
Carmel schools have been closed since March 16, with students – and teachers – experiencing e-learning for the first time two days later. Many other districts have turned to e-learning in recent years on days when inclement weather led to school closures, but Carmel had not used it.
CCS administrators had been discussing the possibility of conducting an e-learning day this spring as a test run to see if the technology might be useful during an emergency, such as a tornado leading to a temporary building closure, Beresford said. A global pandemic was not what they had in mind.
But that’s what happened, and since March 18 students in kindergarten through 12th grade have been logging onto the internet each weekday to complete lessons and assignments.
Beresford said e-learning has gone well so far, considering the circumstances, and that the format may change a bit after spring break, which is April 3 to 10. He said CCS leaders are discussing the sustainability of asking students – especially in elementary school – to complete e-learning assignments at home every day.
“It’s one thing to do something for two weeks and another thing to do it for four weeks in a row,” Beresford said. “We’ll be looking at that.”
He said some nearby school districts are requiring students to complete e-learning three days a week and that CCS may consider that model. The state is allowing school districts to waive 20 instructional days this spring, which could provide some flexibility going forward.
The district is also looking at how to handle prom and graduation, two major traditions in danger of not happening this spring – in person, anyway – that many high school seniors have been anticipating for years.
“Surely we can do something,” Beresford said. “Let’s not just cancel, cancel, cancel. Let’s figure out something we can do instead of look at what we’re losing.”
No matter what happens to conclude the academic year, Beresford is confident the CCS community will work together to get through it.
“We’ve got talented staff, kids who want to learn and parents who are supportive of that,” Beresford said. “I’ve got to believe we’re going to be OK.”
Deciding to close
Beresford made the decision to close schools beginning March 16 after consulting with epidemiologists about the coronavirus, which can lead to the COVID-19 disease. In previous outbreaks of other diseases, Beresford said school districts typically waited to close until a case has been detected in the local population. He became convinced that wouldn’t work this time.
“As more information came out about the lack of test kits and the spread of the virus, it became invalid (to wait for a confirmed case), because we could have a lot of people with the virus but we can’t test them,” he said.