FORT WAYNE — In a letter dated July 6, the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and the Secretariat for Education announced to parents, administrators, faculty and staff of the Catholic schools in the diocese what the 2020-21 school year will look like and the considerations that went into decisions regarding the return of students and teachers to the classroom next month.
The ongoing concerns of COVID-19 and issues surrounding racism, which were raised following the death of George Floyd, occupied the minds of signatories Secretary for Education Carl Loesch, Superintendent Dr. Joseph Brettnacher and Associate Superintendent Jeffrey Kieffer as they weighed the reopening of diocesan Catholic schools this fall.
A survey conducted in June provided the Catholic Schools Office with “good input from parents/guardians, administrators, faculty, and staff (stakeholders) about their desires” for reopening the diocese’s 43 schools.
In an update of the letter, mailed to parents the week of July 20, the administrators noted: “Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, in ‘The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools,’ indicates that most parents share the responsibility of educating their children with other individuals or institutions, mainly schools. For this reason, the Catholic Schools Office invited parents/guardians, administrators, faculty, staff and others to respond to the survey about the reopening. Results from the survey helped to inform what should go into the Catholic Schools Office Back to School Plan Template — a comprehensive, 40-page document — that schools used to individualize their reopening plans.”
Input from stakeholders, local health departments, national organizations and others was also used. A local health department reviewed the template and indicated it was thorough and complete.
Surveyed stakeholders wanted to know details about their school’s reopening plans: health screenings; cleaning; hand-washing; social distancing; wearing cloth face coverings; quarantining and isolation; and after an illness, reentry to school. The CSO provided the following guidelines.
• The goal is to reopen for in-person instruction and for schools to do their best to remain open. Additionally, they need to plan to transition, if needed, to a hybrid schedule and remote learning.
• Parents will be responsible for making sure their children conduct daily health screens and stay home if they have a fever or other symptoms of COVID-19.
• The administration, faculty, staff and visitors will conduct or undergo daily health screens before they enter the building to ensure they do not have symptoms of COVID-19.
• Cleaning touch point surfaces will occur throughout the day, and enhanced cleaning at night, to disinfect for COVID-19 and other contagions.
• Hand-washing and sanitizing will occur when entering and exiting the school and scheduled throughout the day.
• Schools will social distance by 6 feet in the building and at extra/co-curricular events when practical.
• Every member of the school will wear a cloth face covering when entering and exiting the school, during transitions to areas within the building, and in the classroom when practical/needed as defined by the school or directed by the local health department. At the discretion of the teacher, students may take their masks off when sitting in their seats and facing forward and socially distance. Students who want to keep their masks on at all times may do so.
• Each school will have a designated area for anyone who comes down with the symptoms of COVID-19. The school will request that the parent pick them up as soon as possible. Everyone will have to follow local health department guidelines for at-home quarantining when coming in prolonged contact with someone who has COVID-19 or isolation for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 as identified by the local health department or school.
• The school will readmit anyone quarantined or isolated who has followed guidelines from the local health department.
Progress toward reopening schools
The Catholic Schools Office worked with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, the 43 Catholic school principals, faculty, staff, parents and departments within and outside the diocese. They consulted with national organizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local and state health departments and universities. Also, they relied on science to develop a guidance document and reopening template to help schools create their reopening plans to protect the health and safety of their school community from contagions like COVID-19.
“It is our goal to safely reopen our schools to in-person learning and do our best to keep them open,” said the letter. “Our 43 schools will use the Back-to-School guidance document and template our committees created to individualize their reopening plans. They will account for the design of their building(s) and grounds in addition to their location with the 14 counties within the Diocese for Fort Wayne-South Bend. Each school will work closely with their local health departments in the development of their plans.
“Every school’s reopening-plan will evolve due to the novelty of COVID-19 and the changing science,” Loesch, Dr. Brettnacher and Kieffer continued. Each school plans to consider five domains: logistics and planning [safety and scheduling], fostering community, curriculum and instruction, Catholic identity, and technology support.
The updated letter from the Catholic Schools Office should be distributed to parents from their child’s school the week of July 20.
“Everyone has a role to play with COVID-19 and is responsible for the health and safety of themselves and others,” according to the letter. “Notably, we need to protect those at high risk (underlying medical conditions, individuals 65 years or older, etc.) for COVID-19. We want to thank you in advance for your ongoing patience and support. Please pray for the safety of everyone during these unprecedented times.”
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