By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON

cstephenson@dcherald.com

As the beginning of the 2021-22 school year approaches, Dubois County school corporations are planning how to facilitate a safe return to in-person instruction as COVID-19 still lingers.

All four districts — Greater Jasper, Northeast Dubois, Southeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois — have been working together to draft a countywide school reopening plan.

“We have continued to monitor the situation locally both at the county and state level,” Greater Jasper Superintendent Tracy Lorey said at a June school board meeting. “We continue to monitor the resources from the state department of health, executive orders from the governor and then reaching out to do some of our own educating on the situation and looking at what other school districts across the State of Indiana have been doing as they plan for the reopening of the new school year.”

Each corporation may slightly tweak the plan to suit its respective schools, Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang said, but the plan will largely be the same throughout the county.

The plan could also slightly change before the school year begins or as it progresses if COVID-19 worsens in the county, Southeast Dubois Superintendent Jamie Pund said.

“We hope that things continue to progress and get better, but one never knows,” Pund said at a Wednesday school board meeting.

In general, the plan states that students will return to in-person instruction five days a week and will not receive online instruction unless quarantined. Additionally, both masks and COVID-19 vaccinations will be optional for students and staff.

The schools will continue to frequently sanitize and socially distance as much as possible. In the classroom, desks will be spaced at least 3 feet apart, unless the space doesn’t allow for it.

Contact tracing will also continue. As of right now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines close contact as being within 3 feet of an infected person for at least 15 consecutive minutes. If a student is identified as a close contact, they will have to quarantine for 10 days and will be tested so they can return to school as soon as possible.

However, students identified as close contacts will not have to quarantine if they can provide proof of any of the following: a COVID-19 vaccination, COVID-19 antibodies or a positive diagnosis within the previous three months.

“We’re not going to require anyone to get a vaccine, but it will be that kind of get-out-of-jail card,” Pund said.

Online instruction via Google Meet will be provided to students in quarantine but will likely not be available to students with other illnesses or reasons for being out of school. Ultimately, it will be up to each individual school, though.

“The reality is that we will always have a student that is absent for some reason or another, and we don’t want teachers to have to get in the practice of livestreaming every day,” Pund said. “So if someone just has a stomach bug for a day or two, then Google Meet probably will not be provided.”

Greater Jasper and Southeast Dubois have already approved their reopening plans, and Northeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois will approve their plans before the school year begins. Information about the plan will be sent out to parents before the school year begins.