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North goes virtual amid rise in COVID numbers

North goes virtual amid rise in COVID numbers
North goes virtual amid rise in COVID numbers
Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor. Steve Hanger checks the distribution sheet Monday evening at North Harrison Elementary School during meal pickup as Steve Schmelz prepares to hand the driver bags containing four breakfasts and lunches. North Harrison Community School Corp. provided the meals as its schools went to eLearning on Friday. In-person school is expected to resume Monday.
Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor, Editor, [email protected]

Dr. Lance Richards, superintendent of the North Harrison Community School Corp., said the decision to go to virtual learning wasn’t an easy one to make.

“Until it was,” he said at Thursday night’s board of trustees’ meeting in the North Harrison Middle School cafeteria.

“We looked at staffing,” Richards said, adding that the number of quarantines due to COVID-19 was also rising.

During a separate conversation Friday, Richards said that nearly 300 students were in quarantine last week.

Like many school corporations throughout the state, North Harrison is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers, aides, substitute teachers and custodians.

In hopes of giving the coronavirus time to settle down, Richards decided to close the school on Friday as well as all this week. (The school corporation was already scheduled to be closed this past Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.)

At Thursday’s meeting, Richards said snow that fell last February, resulting in a full week of snow days, worked to the school corporation’s advantage. It allowed students and staff to stay away from school, likely slowing the spread of COVID.

“It’s truly been a team effort,” Richards said of the decision to put eLearning into place through Friday.

School trustee Kristina Gunter said the board had preferred to keep students in school, but the increasing COVID numbers made it impossible.

“We hope to go back to the ‘new’ normal,” she said.

Eric Stroud, also a member of the school board, said, “At this crunch time, we feel it is best to keep students and staff safe.”

“I urge you and your parents to get the booster, or the (COVID) shot if you haven’t got it (already),” Steve Hanger said to the students who were in attendance.

Kerry Ingle thanked the teachers, staff, bus drivers and cafeteria workers for helping keep the school corporation at in-person learning to this point.

“It didn’t come without labor and hard work from students and parents,” he added.

Marla Adams also echoed praises for the work of the administration and staff.

The school board and teachers’ union were consulted in the decision making.

“Everyone has been kind about it in their comments,” Richards said. “I commend the board for pivoting on a dime.”

Knowing many students rely on meals they get while at school, North Harrison opted to distribute meals for yesterday (Tuesday) through Friday. Signup had to be complete by Saturday at noon to receive a four-day supply of breakfasts and lunches on Monday evening.

“It’s similar to what we’ve done in the past,” Richards said of the distribution.

Extracurricular activities were set to continue this week, “as long as we can do it in a safe manner,” Richards said by phone Friday. “The seniors have already lost out on seasons.”

He added that North Harrison’s gymnasiums are “big” and all the bleacher space is available, allowing people to spread out.

“People have been sitting as family groups,” Richards said.

Thursday evening’s school board also consisted of reorganization of the board. Adams was selected to remain as president of the board, Ingle was voted in as vice president and Hanger will serve again as secretary. Adams and Hanger, by virtue of their office, will serve on the board of finance.

Three other positions were determined to remain the same: JoAnn Burson as corporation treasurer, Judy Jeffries as assistant treasurer and Kathy Chinn as extra curricular treasurer.

Regular meeting dates will remain the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m.

During the regular portion of the board meeting, social studies teacher Donnetta Reed told the board that two NHHS seniors — Nick Andry and Matt Moorman — were set to achieve Eagle status in the Boys Scouts of America program.

The following appointments were approved: Amanda Wise, instructional assistant at Morgan Elementary School; Danny Johnson for fall and spring drama at NHHS; Merri Haub as MES yearbook coordinator; and Shannon Hodge as NHHS instructional assistant.

The board also approved extending Tom Luther’s school bus route by two miles.

As is required, the evening also included a brief finance meeting, with Richards explaining to the students how the school corporation’s budget works.

“We’re in good shape financially,” he said.

The tax rate is 74.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, down slightly from last year’s rate of 78.9 cents.

The school board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m.