NP board considers COVID-19 concerns with e-learning

Friday, March 13, 2020
Superintendent Nicole Singer speaks on how North Putnam would handle closures during an emergency meeting Thursday evening as board members Joanie Knapp and Ron Spencer (from left) listen.
Banner Graphic/Brand Selvia

BAINBRIDGE -- Thursday saw a whirlwind of action on the part of community leaders, educators and organizers in relation to the developing spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Not only was it announced that the annual Ag Day festivities were being canceled, DePauw University and Ivy Tech also announced that classes were being transitioned to online learning.

Putnam County schools have been also preparing for the worst scenario which may arise as the situation is developing hourly, with school leaders stressing greater precautions.

As such, Superintendent Nicole Singer and the North Putnam School Board convened an emergency meeting on addressing COVID-19 with this in mind Thursday evening.

However, North Putnam Schools announced later Friday afternoon in a letter to parents that school instruction would transition to e-learning for all of the next week prior to spring break.

All practices, events and use of school facilities were canceled for the period of the closure and through the break beginning Friday evening.

It was also stipulated that students would be able to bring home their devices, as well as any medication they might be keeping at school.

Chartwells, North Putnam’s food service provider, will also be working to provide “to-go” options for students who need food during the closures.

“During this time, we encourage all students, staff, and families to practice social distancing, stay home as much as possible, and avoid large groups of people,” the letter stated. “We have not yet made any decisions regarding events between spring break and the end of the school year. This situation is fluid.”

In the letter, Singer added that all e-learning assignments will be due at the beginning of school on Monday, March 30.

The hope at this point is that students and staff will be able to return to school on this date.

Much of the Thursday session revolved around how the school corporation would act with regard to instruction and activities if COVID-19 may be confirmed in Putnam County. This was with the understanding that an infection has not been reported as of yet.

Taking effect from Thursday, Gov. Eric Holcomb stipulated that school corporations would be given a 20-day waiver from the required 180 instructional days. The announcement added that these days do not have to be consecutive and can be “leveraged as needed.”

Singer said that a major concern with regard to e-learning is that some students would not have reliable connectivity at home, and thus not be able to turn in online work.

She said a list of available WiFi spots in Roachdale, Bainbridge, Greencastle and Crawfordsville would be compiled and distributed to parents and students. This was followed up in the letter sent out Friday.

A major consideration Singer pointed to was for teachers to “think creatively” with designing and leading e-learning courses. She said she recognized that parents would question whether this instruction would be “authentic.”

Teachers will be expected to have office hours during the normal school day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with all North Putnam teachers available at the same time. An evening block is tentatively set for 7 to 8 p.m. if the closures extend further.

Singer said that teachers would be encouraged to have assignments up by 9 a.m., as well as to make paper packets for students who are already known not to have capable internet connectivity at home.

“I told them I am anticipating the worst and hoping for the best,” Singer said, adding that administration would be flexible with how classes and sicknesses are reported and handled.

Ultimately, it was stressed that communication between administrators, students and parents was imperative as the circumstances surrounding the spread will have to adapt.

The North Putnam School Board’s monthly regular meeting is tentatively scheduled for next Thursday, March 19 at 7 p.m. at the North Putnam Administration Office in Bainbridge.

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