LAGRANGE — With the start of the new school year scheduled to begin in less than two months, Lakeland School Corporation Superintendent Eva Merkel announced Saturday the school system is formulating plans for starting the 2020-21 school year, as well as a plan to get the school’s fall athletic programs back up and running.
Merkel made the announcement by email to school parents. She said Lakeland will start the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 12.
However, the first thing out of the blocks will be reopening fall sports. Starting on July 6, the school system will start allowing students to return to school for conditioning, following an ISHAA-issued phased approach that outlines a return to fall sports.
“We’re working on our athletic plan once July 6 hits, and see if all the stuff that’s in place is going work in reality like it does in theory, and we’ll pivot if we need to,” she said.
Changes include students being required to arrive at practice dressed and ready to participate. Locker rooms will remain locked. When practices are over, all students will go home to change and shower.
However, Lakeland still has a few details left to wrap up before it officially completes the 2019-2020 school year. Merkel said graduation for the Class of 2020 remains on schedule to take place on July 10 in a ceremony that will be held on the school’s football field.
Also, summer remediation and credit recovery work will be taking place at Lakeland Primary and Lakeland Intermediate starting on July 13 and at Lakeland Jr./Sr. High School on July 14.
Come the start of the new school year, Lakeland is looking at offering parents at least three different options for educating their children.
Merkel said some parents simply don’t want to send their children back into a school building as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues and would like to use an enhanced distance learning model similar to the methods pioneered by school systems last spring.
A second model allows students to work virtually but come to school on specific days to meet with their instructors. The third and final option allows students to attend daily classes. The superintendent said the school system has yet to finalize those plans.
“The important thing is educating children while weighing that against concerns for health,” she said.
Merkel said if schools were to be open right now, students would be required to wear masks, per the mask order issued by the LaGrange County Department of Health. That could change in the future.
“We’re trying to ease parents back into this. We have to get used to not touching things, we have to get used to wearing masks, at least for now,” Merkel said. “As we move forward with our multiple jobs as a school corporation, LaGrange County citizens are being asked to wear masks in public. How we proceed with keeping all things related to school ‘normal’ depends on all of us working together. Even with Stage 5 opening up the state on July 4th, the Governor’s outline includes the recommendation for wearing masks and physical distancing.
“If we want to get to a point where students are in school and we are not faced with numerous shutdowns throughout the year, we have to work together,” she said.
Parents of students will soon be asked to sign up for an education plan for school year 2020-2021.
Merkel said with Lakeland’s one-to-one technology program in addition to its skilled staff, the school system can offer families options for schooling and be prepared if the state were to order another shutdown.
“My preference is not to have to shut down,” she said. “I would much rather have all our students back in the best learning environment – in a classroom with a teacher. We can get there, eventually, if we work together.”
Merkel said parents need to know if their preference is that their children learn from home, internet access will be necessary. She said Lakeland will be sharing low-cost options that are available based on where a family lives. The school system will be expanding its Wi-Fi access outside of its buildings and is looking at additional resources to help families.
“The reality is that, to ensure the best learning at home, the ability to connect (to the internet) has turned from a luxury to a necessity,” she said her to letter to parents.
Merkel also encouraged parents to continue to teach their children to practice good hygiene habits of frequent hand washing, not sharing utensils or bottles and avoiding touching many surfaces. She also suggested students practice wearing masks for extended periods of time.
“Yes, for now, that includes our littlest Lakers,” she added. “We will work hard to put in place plans that allow for mask-free time, but there will be times, for the safety of everyone, that they will be required.”
Merkel also warned that everyone needs to get in a habit of checking students for temperatures of 100.4 or higher to order self-screen before coming to school. Also, all students should be monitored for a cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and loss of taste or smell.
“Develop a sense of how long 15 minutes is and how long 6 feet is,” she explained. “Contact for longer than 15 minutes at less than 6 feet, with no mask, puts you at risk of infection with COVID-19.
“Remember that these are stressful times and it is OK to acknowledge that. We all need to take time to regulate ourselves emotionally and focus positively on the things we can control. Both Bowen Center and Northeastern Center continue to work with us in providing support for our students, families, and staff.”
Finally, Merkel promised she will be wearing a mask.
“I will wear my mask to protect you,” she said. “Please wear yours to protect me. Let’s all stay safe and stay healthy together.”