Will Washington Township Return to Virtual Learning in November?

Washington Township students should be returning to a 100% virtual learning model by Monday, November 16 according to a school board decision made earlier this year. However, it looks as though several factors in play could ensure that students remain in person for another week or two.

The Board voted on a plan that set the minimum to return to 7.9% positivity rate for two weeks (at that time, Marion County had been in the 5.1-5.7% rate for two weeks and it appeared that students might never return under the previous plan of returning to school when the positivity rate dipped below 5%). The September 15th plan indicated that in the event that the positivity rate returns to 8% or higher, students will remain in school for two weeks and then return to at home learning again until the 7.9% or lower has been met for two weeks.

When the Marion County Health Department reported a positivity rate of 9.3% last Friday, November 6, confusion and frustration began to spread about the unclear wording in the plan. Township teachers were also confused. The biggest question was about the metrics and the dates used when reporting these metrics.

The MCPHD dashboard reports metrics from one week prior, so this means that students attended school for one full week while the positivity rate was 9.3. The 9.3 rating was for the week ending October 30th. The big question among parents was when the proverbial clock started on the two week period — was it when the metrics were reported, or when the 9.3 positivity rate actually took place?

Adding to the confusion, a COVID-19 Update was released from the school on Monday that said: “The School Board will review and vote on two minor modifications to our planning for COVID-19 on Wed., November 11 at the School Board meeting… Additionally, the School Board will review and vote on a minor addition to the plan giving clarifying language to the transition process between opening/closure levels, not metrics.”

Families expressed annoyance over the continued confusion and unclear information in this communication as well.

The Washington Township Education Association posted on social media in the middle of the night on Monday, saying: “Start preparing for ALL virtual learning starting Monday, November 16. If the positivity rate is still higher than 8 percent on Friday, then according to the most recent plan, we should be returning to all virtual on Monday.”

While this appears to be how it should play out given the vote taken in September, an insider said that the Washington Township Administrators will be requesting the board give the township an additional seven days of flexibility, after the two week threshold is reached, to change from in-person to virtual. This places the return to virtual learning right after the week long Thanksgiving break.

Originally, when the return to in-person learning was to take place only when the below 5% positivity threshold had been met, the Administration asked for a one week shut down preparation period in the event that classes had to return to virtual learning. In lieu of this, a vote was taken to have a two week period of high levels of positivity in order to prepare students and staff for a return to virtual learning and to prevent continuous shifts from one mode to another.

The new recommendation being brought to the board will keep students and staff in school an additional week during the highest levels of cases that we’ve seen during COVID. Understandably, some families and teachers are irritated that their health and wellbeing are being further compromised despite an agreement made before parents/guardians opted in to in-person learning. Others are upset that the schools are closing at all.

Tuesday (November 9th), communication was sent to several area school corporations about closures, a change to hybrid, a return to 100% virtual and in the case of some, football game forfeitures. An insider from Center Grove Schools estimates that there were more than 20 cases last week with more than 400 students and staff out for quarantine periods. It’s rumored that another dozen cases have been reported over the weekend.

Beech Grove, Center Grove, Greenfield-Central, Mill-Creek Community School Corp and several private schools in Central Indiana have all modified their in-person situations to battle the rising positivity rate in Central Indiana.

The Washington Township School Board has met in person for some time, with some board members attending virtually, however the November meetings have all been conducted virtually, including the upcoming meeting on Wednesday, November 11 at 6pm.

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