Muncie Community Schools prepares for coronavirus outbreak

<p>This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). <strong>CDC, Photo Courtesy</strong></p>

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). CDC, Photo Courtesy

Editor's Note: This story is part of The Partnership Project, a series of content written in an effort by The Daily News to follow the formal collaboration of Ball State University and Muncie Community Schools. Read more in this series here.

As more cases of the novel coronavirus are confirmed worldwide, in the United States and in Indiana, Muncie Community Schools (MCS) has taken steps to prepare schools in case the virus spreads to Muncie.

Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, CEO of MCS, at Tuesday’s school board meeting said the schools are “being proactive [and] trying to make sure that everybody can be ready.”

“We are hopeful that we can just continue being proactive, but we want to be prepared if there were ever a case where we would have to make a decision about closing the school[s],” Kwiatkowski said.

Steps taken:

Apart from cleaning and disinfecting surfaces throughout each school building daily, she said the school’s custodial staff have been using electrostatic sprayers which thoroughly coats all surfaces with a disinfectant. Hand sanitizers are available throughout all the schools.

Jim Williams, MCS board president, said the schools’ nurses are aware of the symptoms they need to be looking for in order to identify a patient with the COVID-19 disease. The schools will also be ready to practice social distancing if necessary.

Williams said MCS is in communication with Ball State, particularly about the steps being taken at Burris Laboratory Schools and Indiana Academy. Regarding MCS students’ spring break plans from March 23-27, and the school’s decisions after, he said the board will monitor the situation and see how it unfolds.

While the board intends on keeping Muncie Community Schools open, the health, safety and welfare of its students and staff is important, he said.

READ MORE: Ball State prepares for coronavirus outbreak

If schools close:

In the event that the schools have to stop in-person learning, Kwiatkowski said the schools have been preparing its teachers to utilize e-learning tools.

If MCS closes, the schools would begin with e-learning days for the first five days, Kwiatkowski said in an email addressed to Muncie families Thursday. After five days, she said MCS will reevaluate and make decisions whether to extend e-learning or cancel school.

According to MCS’ website, the Indiana Department of Education’s E-Learning Day Program is used on a day of inclement weather, on a make-up day for inclement weather, or on a planned day.

For those who don’t have access to computers or the internet, Williams said hard copies will be made available.

MCS’ e-learning website states teachers may opt to send home paper/pencil assignments the day prior to the scheduled e-learning day or assign a hybrid of online and paper/pencil assignments.

Last month, Kwiatkowski said Chuck Reynolds, associate superintendent of MCS, organized an e-learning challenge for all teachers to practice e-learning during the school day. This week, she said, the schools are requesting elementary school teachers to have a mock e-learning session.

In her letter, Kwiatkowski said elementary teachers are working on packets to be sent home March 16 for students to keep home in case of a school closure. Secondary students will use Schoology, MCS' online learning management system.

Food distribution:

In her letter, Kwiatkowski said Chartwells, the schools' food service provider, would offer grab-and-go food service at various schools across the district for breakfast and lunch on a daily basis if the schools close. She said this would be help mitigate food insecurity for our students

One concern, Williams said, is food banks in Muncie will be stressed if other local food organizations might not be providing meals. He said Second Harvest Food Bank will provide a back up plan in those situations.

Field trips:

As far as school field trips are concerned, she said MCS has requested principals to work with teachers and cancel or reschedule any field trips planned for the next few weeks. However, field trips may continue if deemed appropriate by the building and district administration.

Kwiatkowki said MCS has two prepaid overnight trips scheduled to take place over spring break and early April — one for more than 30 students to Washington, D.C., and one for middle school students to Orlando, Florida. 

She said the teachers in charge of the field trips are working closely with tour and bus companies, have purchased additional sanitizers and Clorox wipes, and are making sure that the students have the best hotel rooms.

MCS has requested all staff members to cancel any travel that is work-related until further notice is provided, she said.

Extracurricular activities:

At this time, she said MCS plans to continue extracurricular activities as scheduled, but this decision will be reevaluated on a daily basis.

If parents and guardians do not want their students to attend these activities due to COVID-19 concerns, she said they should communicate directly with the principal and coach or sponsor. Students will be excused from the activity without penalty.

While MCS will continue allowing fans to its events, it asks people belonging to high-risk populations and people experiencing illness to take precautions to protect themselves and avoid attending the event.

MCS' before- and after-school childcare programs will continue as scheduled at this time.

“We’re staying very engaged with the health department and just being as proactive as we can, and knock on wood that coronavirus stays away from Muncie, Indiana,” Kwiatkowski said.

Contact Rohith Rao with comments at rprao@bsu.edu or on Twitter @RaoReports.

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