FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Allen County’s four major school districts, including Fort Wayne Community Schools, will close their schools for at least one month amid the coronavirus outbreak.
FWCS Superintendent Dr. Wendy Robinson said in a memo obtained by WANE 15 effective at the end of the day Friday, “ALL FWCS buildings will be closed to students until at least Monday, April 13, as required by the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health.”
The memo orders staff to report to work on Monday and plan to work “at least through Wednesday, March 18.”
“We are still determining who will need to work beyond March 18,” the memo said.
East Allen County Schools will also close for the same period, according to a memo obtained by WANE 15. The memo said EACS will use a “combination of eLearning and state waiver days during this time.”
Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools, too, will close until April 13, WANE 15 has learned.
Although the schools have been meeting for about a week to discuss what they can do to slow the spread of the virus in their schools while continuing in-person instruction, the decision to close is something that was decided between Thursday and Friday. In a press conference, the superintendents said the districts tried to find any way to keep students in schools but, in the end, they decided the safest thing for students was to close.
SACS and EACS are both fully prepared to transition to eLearning for their students. Northwest Allen, who has only been using eLearning for about a year, said they will have to modify their eLearning in order for it to be a suitable replacement for in-person instruction over the next four weeks. Fort Wayne Community does not currently have eLearning and is working out how to make that an option for at least junior and senior students.
“We are going to provide technology to children who don’t have it who are graduated juniors or seniors, but again we have to work out those detail,” said Charles Cammack, Chief Operating Officer for FWCS. “We’ve been talking to Comcast and Verizon about what we can do to help gets but we don’t have all those answers yet.”
As for how they will continue education for their younger students, FWCS said that is just one of a variety of issues they are going to have to address next week. This decision will put a strain on families and FWCS said they will need the support of the community
“There’s going to be some financial hardships that we have to address because some people won’t be able to work so how are we doing to deal with that,” said Cammack. “There’s a lot of children who won’t have the stability of coming to school every day and even though we will provide instruction and will provide access educational experiences that’s going to be something that the community’s going to have to help us with because we can’t be in every neighborhood and we can’t help every child that’s not in the building.”
Fort Wayne Community and East Allen County Schools are planning to provide lunches for students in the same way they do their summer lunch program so that their students who rely on school lunches can continue getting the proper nutrition. Northwest Allen and Southwest Allen County Schools said they do not qualify for summer lunch programs but said they are working out plans in order to provide lunches as well. SACS Superintendent Phil Downs said that is partially why they will be leaning on eLearning during this time.
“We too are going to try to be providing lunches, probably run through Homestead High School at this time,” said Downs. “We do not qualify because of our demographics for summer school programming at this time. For us to be able to do lunches we either have to be eLearning or in session, so part of why we’re staying eLearning is so we’re able to provide lunches.”
Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deb McMahan said there is a group of local organizations discusses what services could help families of working parents with children who are not old enough to stay home alone.
Teachers and staff at all four districts will be at school starting Monday to work out detailed plans for the next four weeks. There is the possibility that teachers could transition into working from home at this time. The fate of hourly employees is still in the air, although East Allen said their school board has agreed to hear a resolution that, if passed, would allow the schools to continue paying hourly staff like bus drivers while school is out.
“On Tuesday night we’ll be taking a resolution to the school board and if passed we would continue to pay our hourly people so they won’t have to worry about their families and having food on their tables and taking care of their families,” said Marilyn Hissong, Superintendent for EACS.
The Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend will close all of its 43 schools, from preschool to high school, beginning Monday. The closure will last 3 weeks, according to Bishop Kevin Rhoades.
On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said Indiana schools would be allowed to close for 20 days for rest of this school year, to help stem the coronavirus spread.