The letter below was emailed to parents and staff on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.
It has always been our goal to have all of our students with us for in-person learning following COVID-19 safety protocols. Under the guidance of the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) and the St. Joseph County Department of Health (SJCDoH), our secondary schools have either been in hybrid or virtual mode since the start of the school year because of the population size of those buildings. Since September, our elementary schools have been successfully educating students in-person. We’ve also been able to provide a virtual option for any family who was more comfortable with their student(s) learning at home. Through all of these scenarios, we’ve put the well-being and safety of our students and staff first while balancing the guidelines and protocols of federal, state, and local health agencies.
The efforts and precautions we’ve all made to help lower the community spread of COVID-19 have finally paid off! Yesterday (Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021) the IDOH released their weekly updated County metrics; and St. Joseph County’s weekly 2-metric score has improved to Yellow (click here to visit the IDOH website & view the county metrics map). SJCDoH also sent out a news release yesterday (click here to read it in full) reinforcing the IDOH’s message that “a county must maintain a lower weekly 2-metric score for two consecutive weeks before moving down to a lower Advisory Level.” St. Joseph County’s Advisory Level does remain Orange.
I am happy to notify our secondary parents that with the approval and permission of SJCDoH and in collaboration with the P-H-M Teachers Association, on Monday, February 8th, I will be recommending to the Board of School Trustees for their approval plans for the phase-in process of transitioning secondary students (grades 6-12 whose parents chose hybrid instruction for the 2nd semester) back into the classroom for in-person instruction working up to 5 days per week. Please note that the transition begins with Mondays as a virtual day for all students and four days of in school instruction. Please click here for a detailed breakdown of the Secondary Return to Learn Transition Plan.
We have developed this plan after many discussions with our Teachers Association and local health authorities. This plan is supported by both parties because of the factors listed below:
- Not all secondary students will be brought back all at once; grades will be transitioned back in on a weekly basis. Please click here for a detailed breakdown of the Secondary Return to Learn Transition Plan.
- This is an option only for those middle and high school students whose parents declared them hybrid for the 2nd semester, until SJCDoH increases the allowable capacity in our school buildings.
- P-H-M Administration will meet weekly with SJCDoH for data monitoring of local metrics. Data will continue to guide all decision making. We hope to eventually have all students back in school for face-to-face instruction.
- St. Joseph County, like the rest of the State, is experiencing a decrease in COVID-19 cases. However, we must maintain our risk mitigation strategies to avoid an increase in numbers.
- The federal and state governments are ramping up vaccination efforts and availability. While the IDOH still has not included teachers as part of essential workers or critical infrastructure, the State’s vaccine eligibility based on age groups is moving quickly. SJCDoH continues to support teacher vaccination.
- SJCDoH encourages social distancing of 6 ft. or more whenever possible, but recognizes and accepts that the Governor’s guidelines for schools are the following:
- If necessary, a minimum social distancing standard of 3 ft., if everyone is masked and facing the same direction (click to read Executive Order 21-02 (renewed 1/28/21).
- P-H-M continues to track the number of student and staff COVID cases reported to us. The cases are reflected on P-H-M’s COVID Dashboard. A link to the Dashboard is on the homepage of P-H-M’s district website for staff and families to easily find; it is updated daily except for weekends, holidays, and recess breaks.
We do realize that there are probably students and families who chose virtual learning for a variety of reasons and who may prefer to be back in school with their teachers and classmates. Again, it is our utmost desire as educators to have 100% of our students back 100%. The determination for the possibility for 6-12 In-person students to go 5 days a week and 6-12 Virtual students to return to in-person learning will be based on the metrics, evaluation of internal data, and approval for capacity by the SJCDoH. This will remain to be under review and consideration for any changes to occur no sooner than after Spring Break.
As stated above and in the Secondary Return to Learn Phase-in Plan, we will be meeting weekly with SJCDoH leaders to monitor and evaluate the community and P-H-M COVID-19 case data. When we can safely return those virtual students who want to return to the classrooms, we will do so as soon as it is permissible by SJCDoH.
Please direct specific questions about your student and school to your building principal. Secondary principals will have follow-up communications with building specific details of the transition plan.
The Board of School Trustees and I want all our families and employees to know that their safety is at the very forefront of our decision making. We will continue to make decisions in consultation with the St. Joseph County Department of Health.
Please stay safe and healthy.
Dr. Jerry Thacker
Superintendent of Schools