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By: Rocio Villaseñor

Students across Northwest Indiana have now experienced three months of school -- either in-person, e-learning or in some cases hybrid learning due to COVID-19. Schools boards and parents struggled this year to determine what was the best-case scenario for student learning and safety for students, staff and faculty. Whatever the decision, parents were going to bear the brunt of it.

Northwest Indiana elementary and high school student parents and a college student from Lake County, La Porte County and Jasper County discussed e-learning and in-person learning during this back-to-school year, 2020-2021.

School corporations offered parents two to three options for learning methods to choose from this school year, 2020-2021. The options were based on a 38-page document titled “IN-CLASS: COVID-19 Health and Safety Re-entry Guidance” that was released in June by Indiana’s education, health and social services departments. Jennifer McCormick, Indiana’s state superintendent of public instruction, said during a webinar in June, that the document provided recommendations for 180 days of required instructional time, but they were leaving the decision to school boards about fall school reentry. McCormick said this was due to coronavirus being different across Indiana’s 92 counties. During the webinar, some Indiana superintendents said they planned to survey students’ parents to see what is the best learning method that will work best for families in their school district. The Daily 219 interviewed three Northwest Indiana elementary student parents, a high school student parent and a college individual to see what options were offered at their school this fall and how the pandemic has impacted their learning since March. Elementary An elementary student parent from Merrillville, IN in Lake County, who wishes to remain anonymous, has a third grader at Salk Elementary in the Merrillville School District that started school on August 20. The parent who is a working mother said the school sent out emails and a survey. The “first trimester is full remote e-learning Monday through Friday. There has been no formal decision for when or if there is a return to class.” It took her son a week to adapt to e-learning but likes it since it is more interactive now. In March, “it was less formal and limited interaction with the teachers,” and there were no live class sessions then. She added that now her son stays “engaged with the class work and the teachers take the time to assist students who may be struggling with the format.” “I am happy he is not in in-person classes because I value his safety over every other inconveniences it may cause.” The class work has been fine, but scheduling care has been challenging. “Now you need your child present at three or more live sessions a day which can be challenging if you don’t have a regular caregiver to stay on top of work.”

The school’s plan to keep kids and staff safe whenever it reopens is more cleaning after classes. They are also requiring masks, but she was not sure about temperature checks. According to a September 2020 newsletter from Nicholas G. Brown, Merrillville Community School Corporation Superintendent, “Teachers have been attending professional development to ensure the virtual experience provides students meaningful interactions as well as high quality learning experiences.” The school corporation also has parent and family resources like technology and internet connectivity help, free lunches, and other assistance opportunities. Janette A. Chavez, a self-employed mother, said she is grateful to work from home while her sixth grade daughter is e-learning at Kesling Intermediate School in the La Porte Community School Corporation, LPCSC, in La Porte, IN in La Porte County. She started school on August 24. Parents were able to attend live board meetings with the school corporation and emails were sent. There were three options available to parents: in-person, e-learning for nine weeks, and homeschooling for the whole school year. For all three options, the school was offering students Chromebooks. “I chose option number two – e-learning for nine weeks. I guess we can see what happens after that. She’ll probably be sent to school or we can renew another nine weeks, if COVID gets worse.” Chavez said her daughter hates e-learning. “She doesn’t like it. She wants to be in school. She really loves going to school ever since she was little. She sees a lot of her friends did do option one – going to go school. She just thinks it’s not fair that she needs to stay home for nine weeks.” Chavez has a six-month old son which was another reason why she chose option two for her daughter. “I can’t really take a huge risk like that.” Her daughter has not had any problems with e-learning through Zoom this fall. “It’s nice that the teachers have the Zoom conferences with their students in each class period.” However, she recalls that in March, e-learning was different than how it is now. “It was not hard for her to adapt. I think she was more upset more than anything. She likes the social interaction with her friends and teachers...I was also not pleased with e-learning. I felt she didn’t really learn much when they shut down in March up until June. The teachers just asked irrelevant questions to the subject that they were studying.” Now through e-learning her daughter has a routine schedule. She logs in at 7:35 a.m. up until 2:35 p.m. with a lunch break in between. “I just hope that this is not the norm. That this doesn’t continue for a long time because I do want her to go back to school. I just want everything to go back to normal. Hopefully, nobody tests positive in the school system, and she can go to school and we can try to normalize our lives again.” For the students that chose in-person learning, the school is requiring them to wear masks and social distance. Students are not allowed to have lockers. Water fountains have been shut off. The students eat bagged lunches – half in the auditorium and other half in the lunchroom. If someone does test positive for COVID-19, Chavez said the school does have a plan in place. “They will shut down the school and everybody needs to go on to e-learning until it’s clear.” LPCSC had an update on September 2. They will now adopt “the new system that assesses each county for COVID-19 spread using a new set of metric and corresponding color codes,” that is being used by the Indiana State Department of Health. LPCSC is currently operating under a blue Covid-19 spread level which means 0-.9 over a 7-day period. Carolina Juarez, a working mother, from Wheatfield, IN in Jasper County said her two children began e-learning on August 24. Juarez did not want to share the school her children attend, but did say she has a first grader and fourth grader. Juarez said the school had meetings and sent out emails about her two options: in-person and e-learning. “I chose e-learning because I have other people to worry about with COVID. And I don’t want to risk getting sick myself. If my kids get sick, then I get sick. And if I get sick, I can’t work and pay my bills.” “I’ll just rather do e-learning instead of putting my kids’ lives at risk,” Juarez emphasized. She mentioned e-learning will be the whole school year. Her children’s schedule for e-learning on Zoom is from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. They feel confident about e-learning because they are receiving one-on-one sessions with the teacher. “They are getting more attention. But they do miss interactions with other students. They miss going to classrooms. I know my oldest misses having her own desk. She has told me that herself. It’s not the same.” Juarez mentioned that one of her concerns was the internet connection and if the website crashes during e-learning. Remote learning in March “was complete chaos,” Juarez said. “We didn’t know when the kids were going to be coming back. Some people were concerned about bringing their kids back. It was a little depressing because it was my younger daughter’s first year in school. She was really enjoying Kindergarten when the whole pandemic started. She was upset she didn’t have a lot time with her teacher.” It took her children a while to adapt to the coronavirus and remote learning situation. “I had to constantly remind them why we are doing it, and why things are happening.” Juarez was grateful she put her children in e-learning because at the beginning of the school year within the first three days, there were three positive cases of COVID-19. She said the school was shut down for two weeks. According to a report published in August and will be updated by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association and a study also published in August in the Journal of Pediatrics, children can easily get and spread the coronavirus. The school has mask and social distance requirements, but Juarez is not sure about temperature checks. According to Jasper County’s website, they have a COVID-19 Screening for Parents guidance, plan when student or staff can return to school, and they follow the Indiana State Department of Health’s Preparation for a Positive Student/Staff: K-12 Schools.

Next week, we talk with high school parents about their family’s early experiences.

  • Fluid Communications

Whether everyone realized it or not, the corona virus was the top story in Northwest Indiana this week -- or at least should have been.

Northwest Indiana set a single day record for reported COVID-19 cases on October 22, led by the highest case load ever in Lake County.The Region hit a seven-day positivity rate of 9.8% causing many health commissioners throughout the Region to urge their citizens not to let their guard down about the precautions needed to stay healthy. Anything over 5% is alarming to health professionals.

The state health department reported 390 cases across the five-county region, with a record 238 in Lake County alone. There were no deaths reported in the region on Friday, October 23. Lake County is now averaging about 184 cases a day (based on the week of October 19 - 23, 2020). The region is averaging more than 300 cases a day, about triple the number seen at the end of last month.

Government Workers and First Responders Seeing Covid-19 Rise

The City of East Chicago is seeing a rise in Covid-19 Cases among children and families, Health Department Director Diana Garcia-Burns said. The city has had a total of 647 cases since April. However, they are reporting 206 new cases just between September 30 and October 21. Hispanics make up over half of the total reported cases.

The city is only reporting 24 deaths since June but African Americans account for 13, Hispanic 8 and 3 were white. All deaths were of people 60 or older.

Many cases are being tracked back to small gatherings such as family outings and events.

With the rising cases, the city will remain in Stage 4, with restaurants, bars, churches and nightclubs allowed at 50% capacity.

Lake Station City Council meeting was canceled on Tuesday because the Lake Station City Hall was closed because of cleaning after An employee who works for the city of Lake Station has tested positive for COVID-19.

Just two days later, Lake Station Mayor Bill Carroll, 41, reported he had contracted the virus and was working from home. He told his citizens that Covid-19 was real and to take this virus seriously.

The Times of Northwest Indiana reported that Covid-19 was showing up in those school districts that opened up in August and September.

The Duneland School Corporation is reporting the first case of COVID-19 at Brummitt Elementary School this past week. However, Duneland has been reporting cases weekly.

A Brummitt student tested positive on Friday morning. Eight persons have been identified as close contacts of the student and will be quarantined for 14 days.

Also: A Chesterton High School student tested positive on Sunday morning and another student tested positive Monday morning. Three persons have been identified as close contacts with the student who tested positive on Sunday and will be quarantined. The student in question was last in the school building on Monday, Oct. 12.

As people flock inside as it begins to get cold and as pandemic fatigue continues, health officials urge Hoosiers not to let their guard down. This summer, a lot of those under the age of 20 in Indiana were being infect by the Covid-19 virus, but now there’s been an increase in people over 40 catching the virus.

State Takes Action At Nursing Homes

On Wednesday October 21, As Governor Eric Holcomb provided his weekly update on Indiana without state health commissioner Kristina Box, because of her positive test for Covid-19, and acknowledged a surge in cases within the last two weeks, he assured citizens that he would keep the state open at level 5.

Also, A new report by the American Health Care Association shows nursing homes could see a third spike of new COVID-19 cases because of community spread among the general population.

Over in Boone County, one long-term care center has seen three additional deaths and 24 new COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks, according to the county health department.

More than 50% of COVID-19 deaths in Indiana are linked to the state’s long-term care facilities.

Holcomb said members of the Indiana National Guard will help at long-term care facilities, and the state will hire additional clinical staff who will visit facilities and train employees on best practices, Holcomb said. The guard will begin assisting on Nov. 1 with testing, screening and reporting procedures at the facilities.

Gary Health Commissioner Roland Walker provided suggestions to families as the holiday season approaches. You can listen to his suggestions here: https://static.wixstatic.com/mp3/71c683_614a55051bcd420798e1c23d230dc26c.mp3

  • Fluid Communications

Indiana is not trending in the right direction when it comes to Covid-19. The state set another record on Friday with 1800 new cases.

The Indiana Amvets conference was held at the Wyndham Hotel In Indianapolis the weekend of September 25. Between 80 and 90 people were in attendance. Within days and during COVID-19's 14-day incubation period, people started getting sick.

The Amvets won't release how many people have become ill, But enough people have been diagnosed to prompt three Amvets posts to temporarily shut down for deep cleaning.

Those posts include:

Post 99 - in Indianapolis Post 12 - in Muncie Post 23 -in Hartford City

Dr. Kristina Box , Indiana Health Director, said several counties in southern Indiana have seen increases in COVID-19 cases. The county that is particularly of concern is rural Pike County. However, Box said that everyone must still be cautious and aware of the pandemic.

The pandemic is a very big challenge.

Franciscan Health’s Community Health Improvement team is partnering with Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) to help families strengthen their resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For nine weeks this fall, Families Tackling Tough Times Together, a partnership between Franciscan Health and Purdue University Northwest, will provide weekly collections of ideas for families to use. These tools are free, flexible, and informed by science. They are designed for families of all types, with tailored suggestions for children, youth, young adults and older adults, and suitable for both civilian and military families.

The program will provide:

· Nine weekly collections of resilience-building activities you can use.

· Information about resilience for you and your family.

· Opportunities to ask questions of experts.

· Messages of support and encouragement.

Families are invited to join a public Facebook group H H S Families Together or visit the project website at hhs .purdue.edu where they will find materials and activities tied to a specific aspect of resilience.

NIPSCO natural gas residential customers can expect their overall bills during this year’s winter heating season to be slightly higher when compared to last year, assuming normal weather and usage.

The slight difference is largely due to the higher overall cost of natural gas – although the commodity cost of natural gas remains near historic lows. Over the course of the upcoming five-month winter heating season — Nov. 1 to March 31 — NIPSCO’s average natural gas residential customers could expect to pay approximately $425 in total. In comparison, last year’s average bill for the same five months, with a normal usage pattern, would have been approximately $400. This represents about a $25 difference or $5 per month on average for the five total months.

The City of Gary has acquired ownership of two vacant Gary community School Corporation schools – Edison Middle School at 5400 W. 5th Ave. and Ivanhoe Elementary School at 5700 W. 15th Ave.

the Post-Tribune reports that City of Gary Corporation Counsel Trent McCain said the city is also acquiring vacant William A. Wirt High School, Nobel and Aetna elementaries through intergovernmental transfers, but those deals haven’t closed yet.

The School Corporation transferred the deeds to the city through intergovernmental transfer. The stipulation of the transfer was that the property could not be sold to or developed into another any school.

The Fall installment of Lake County Property Taxes due date is November 10.

You may pay your property tax bill by visiting the Lake County government website OR at the following banks from October 5, 2020 to November 10, 2020:

American Community Bank, Centier Bank, Demotte State Bank, Dyer Bank and Trust, First Financial Bank, First Merchants Bank, First Midwest Bank, Horizon Bank, Peoples Bank, Tech Credit Union.


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