Zionsville Community Schools started its school year Aug. 10, beginning an unprecedented experiment to continue in-person classes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the same day, ZCS Supt. Scott Robison confirmed a person related to Zionsville Middle School tested positive for COVID-19, the same day the school district started its academic year.
The situation led school officials to the decision to keep all eighth graders from in-person attendance at ZMS until the week of August 24.
Though schools in the district started their fall semester Aug. 10, ZMS students did not attend in-person classes until Aug. 11.
Along with other ZCS secondary schools, ZMS offered remote learning the first day of the semester due to the school district’s hybrid schedule, which calls for all secondary schools to hold remote learning classes on Mondays. Elementary schools in the district returned to in-person classes Aug. 10.
After contact with Boone County Health Department, which set the duration of quarantine for all involved in the case, ZCS officials announced eighth-grade students would, while learning remotely, follow the same daily schedule and be taught by the faculty members to whom they were assigned for this semester’s courses.
Robison said in an email that ZCS would refrain from sharing any information that could identify the person who tested positive, including their age and role at the school. He said the school district has decided it will not release identifying information of any person related to the schools who tests positive for COVID-19.
Other schools around the state have reported COVID-19 cases, many of which did so in the first week of reopening to in-person classes, including schools in Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield.
Boone County Health Department Public Health Educator Claire Haughton said schools should expect some cases of COVID-19 through the year.
Speaking of the early months of the pandemic, Haughton said, “The overall goal was not necessarily to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Boone County because we knew that would be impossible. Our goal was to prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed. That was the overarching goal: try to save lives and do everything we can to make sure our hospitals aren’t getting in over their heads with serious cases or deaths.
“It is a highly infectious disease, and we know young people are more likely to not have symptoms, so they are more likely to go around undetected, so I don’t think there would be any way we could keep our schools completely COVID free. But we are going to do our best. Schools are going to work really, really hard to stop the spread of the disease in the schools.”
BCHD officials confirmed students who attend county schools have tested positive for COVID-19 during the summer.
The health department does not keep age-related cumulative data at the county level, so it is unclear how many tested positive. Haughton said extra curricular activities such as contact sports are believed to have been the source of some cases.
ZCS’s school year had already been delayed from Aug. 4, the school district’s initially first planned day of the semester. Other Boone County schools, including Western Boone County Community School Corp. schools and Lebanon Community School Corp. schools returned to school later in the week.
On Aug. 11, when secondary schools returned to class, students walked through halls with masks, which were required in all schools by the school district. Students wore them through the day, out of their buildings and on to their respective buses without removing them at the end of the day – one of the many changes students adjusted to.
Some students at secondary schools were sequestered into groups to further decrease the chance of a large COVID-19 outbreak at one of the schools (some students chose a remote learning option, meaning they won’t be returning to in-person classes for the semester). Students attending in-person classes were grouped together by last name – students with last names beginning with A through K in one group, students with last names beginning with L through Z in another. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays only students in the former group attend classes, and on Thursdays and Fridays only students in the latter group attend classes, each attending four of their eight block classes each day.
On Mondays, while remote learning, students will complete all eight of their block classes. All in person elementary students will attend in person every school day. All remote elementary students will attend remotely each day with their designated, ZCS instructor at the lead.
Each year Zionsville Community Schools Supt. Scott Robison reads a children’s book to kindergarteners. This year, he read “Little Humans” by Brandon Staton.
“This time we’ve been through can make us all feel small,” Robison said in a ZCS video released Aug. 9, the day before the school district’s semester began. “I just wanted to say we are all coming back in a time that is very uncommon, and that’s OK. In fact, we get stronger when we find our way through things and when we are solution minded together.
“There are times in life when we just feel like a little human,” Robison said to the children of ZCS, but he said “we do really big things when we do just the small act of social distancing and wearing our masks.”
Robison concluded the video by saying, “It’s going to be a great school year in the Zionsville Community Schools.”