La PORTE — The La Porte Community School Corp. is continuing to navigate challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes new CDC guidance, a surge in cases and a bus driver shortage.

“Most recently, the activity we have seen is that our numbers in school reflect similarly the county as a whole. We did see a little bit of a surge that came in over break. It wasn’t as high as we initially thought it could be after we’ve seen the county numbers,” Supt. Mark Francesconi told the La Porte Community Schools Board of Trustees on Monday.

Last week was the highest week, at 38 cases, the district has had this school year for positive cases since a surge of 46 cases that occurred the week of Aug. 23, 2021.

“Symptoms are not as severe, thank goodness, and we also have been blessed enough to have very few cases end up in hospitalization,” Francesconi said.

The district, said Francesconi, is still looking at individual schools, classrooms or departments and their numbers collectively in terms of deciding whether to go to virtual learning in certain settings.

“We’re trying to stay away from going the entire corporation (into virtual learning) – especially if there are schools that can operate. In other words, the staffing is there, the students’ cases are not such of a concern that we would be deciding to go remotely again. We do continue to monitor those numbers,” he said.

According to Francesconi, one issue that could cause the school system to move into remote learning is its shortage of bus drivers.

“In general, we have the same number of bus drivers and substitutes that we’ve had in the past. It’s just because of COVID and because of the number of different factors that happen in people’s lives, this year it’s been pressing on us to try to cover all the routes,” he said.

Since the start of the school year, the district has been addressing the shortage by offering parents the option of transporting their child to and from school or using bus service running on a delayed schedule.

“We can see across the state that there have been a number of schools that have shut down as a result of being short on bus drivers. We’re trying to stay away from that as long as possible,” Francesconi said.

Francesconi said they could move secondary students to remote learning while elementary students remained in-person.

“That would make it easier on us to transport students if we cut out the secondary. The remote works a little better for the secondary than the elementary. That’s a possibility. (We’re) just trying to forewarn everybody of the things we’re looking at there with regard to COVID,” he said.

Over winter break, the CDC updated previously recommended isolation and quarantine periods for COVID-19 cases and close contacts. The changes prompted the Indiana Department of Health to release a K-12 guidance to assist schools in modifying their current plans.

“The most recent guidance is basically the quarantine and isolation periods are much shorter now, which is affecting our internal policies and how we communicate and how we quarantine students. It’s a good thing they’re missing less school,” Francesconi said.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate themselves for five days. As long as their symptoms are resolving (without a fever for 24 hours), they may return to school on day six.

Because of the school district’s face covering requirement, individuals identified as a close contact in the classroom do not need to quarantine – as long as they remain asymptomatic.

In September the board approved requiring face coverings be worn in all corporation buildings when social distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained. The requirement remains in effect at any time in which the La Porte County COVID-19 advisory level is yellow, orange or red.

As far as recording positive cases, Francesconi said they are finding that it is becoming difficult to keep track of where students or staff are picking up the virus.

“Its initial symptoms are not as bad as what initial COVID would look like. When people had COVID a year or so ago, it was pretty clear that you had it. You woke up and it almost knocked you out for a lot of people,” he said.

With the current symptoms people carry for a couple days, he said, individuals question if they have the virus until they test for it.

“For schools ... who are one of the few entities in the community doing close contract tracing, it’s becoming a little bit more difficult to do that with definity,” Francesconi said.

However, Francesconi said they still do not see strong evidence of transmission going on within school corporation buildings.

“I know there has to be to some extent, but all along we’ve seen most cases are associated somehow with somebody in the family, something going on outside of school,” he said.

Francesconi advised visiting the school corporation’s website at www.lpcsc.k12.in.us for COVID-19 data as well as how to find testing and vaccine sites.

“We’re going to continue to look to provide opportunities for our staff in the near future to get those boosters they need,” he said.

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