As of March 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated safety recommendations regarding the ability of schools to safely reopen, including the reduction of recommended classroom distance to three feet instead of six. These updates, however, will not significantly change policy at this school.
According to superintendent Michael Beresford, the Indiana State Department of Health is the organization that determines changes to Indiana school safety measures and had given schools the flexibility for three feet spacing before the CDC changed their recommendations. He said the three feet distance only applies to situations when students can wear masks, so distancing at lunch will remain at six feet. Additionally, he said the lifting of the Indiana mask mandate on April 6 will not affect schools, meaning that students and staff will still be required to wear masks.
Sophomore Kate Smith said she was hopeful about returning in-person next year despite the lack of a mask mandate.
“The removal of the mask mandate makes me a little bit nervous, but I would like to be optimistic (about going to school in-person next year),” Smith said.
Associate principal Karen McDaniel said the three feet distance recommendation has been useful for more hands on activities like science classes with labs or small group discussions, but that other schools have benefitted more than this school.
“It has impacted us, but not to the fullest extent I think it impacted elementaries,” she said.
Three feet distancing was not enough to allow CCS middle schools and this school to return fully in person this school year, however. According to McDaniel, when administration was first scheduling for this school year, they didn’t look at the combined Greyhound and Carmel cohort class sizes as a factor as they didn’t expect to be able to return fully in-person.
“That was our top priority, was getting you in the classes that you asked for,” she said. “There was a lot of behind the scenes magic that took place to make sure you got in those classes and got the experience educationally that you wanted so your transcript didn’t suffer.”
Beresford said lack of space for distancing at lunch and a shortage of bus drivers also influenced the decision to remain on a hybrid schedule. He said some clases had as many as 40 to 50 students when the cohorts were combined.
“We couldn’t even fit that many people in a classroom let alone have any distance between them,” he said. “Which we were kind of shooting for that three feet or at least a good bit of space in between them. So then we started looking at if we could change schedules and balance classes, what would that look like. And a lot of the classes, you couldn’t do it unless you changed teachers. And you spend all year, all semester, with a teacher, you’re used to them and everything. It would be bad practice to change somebody’s teacher for the last eight weeks of school or the last six weeks of school, whenever we would have been able to pull it off.”
Smith said that vaccinations were also a concern for her when CCS was considering going back fully in-person.
“I am in full support of (staying on the hybrid schedule),” Smith said. “I think because most students aren’t vaccinated and even teachers, most of them won’t be fully vaccinated for at least a month. I think it’s definitely the best decision to keep people safe.”
As for in-person summer classes, McDaniel said this school will focus on enrichment and remediation rather than classes like AP Macroeconomics.
“Getting students to be on track, that’s our primary focus,” McDaniel said. “I think that is the responsible focus to have right now too. We offer those AP classes here in the building in the school year, and that’s great, students can take those next year. We also have some students that have not done well mentally or academically because of the pandemic and I think we have a responsibility to make that our focus.”
According to Beresford, counselors are currently processing course requests for next school year which will likely be fully in-person.
“From everything that we’ve seen so far it looks like we’re going to be able to start in the fall just regular like we would before the pandemic,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to somewhat of a normal year.”
Additionally, McDaniel said administrators are planning an event that will take place the week before next school year starts to welcome students back to fully in-person learning. She said she hopes the event will ease anxieties about being close together again as well as prepare incoming seniors for their new leadership roles.
“Next year’s seniors, our senior leaders, they left us as second semester sophomores and now we’re expecting them to be in this leadership role where we’ve not been in a normal situation,” McDaniel said. “So for us to expect them to jump right in, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if we don’t foster (leadership) before school starts.”
Smith said she was looking forward to returning in-person next year.
“I think that I learn much better in a fully in-person environment,” Smith said. “I really love lectures and I’m definitely an audio learner so I’m just excited to actually get to see my teachers every day and work in that environment.”
McDaniel said she encourages students to continue to social distance and wear masks in order to keep CCS on track to reopen fully next fall.
“Wear masks. Be socially responsible on the weekends. Don’t let your guard down,” she said.
Considering the unusual nature of the past school year, Beresford said he was proud of everyone that worked to keep it as smooth as possible.
“I’m proud of the students, the teachers, our families at home, and all the staff,” Beresford said. “Everybody in every aspect of school, in the classroom, food service, transportation, facilities, all the administrators, every group of the whole Carmel Clay Schools family has really had to do some extra stuff in order to pull this off in this pandemic for over a year. And I just couldn’t be prouder.”