Dr. Scott Robison on the Status of Reopening Zionsville’s Schools

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June 2020

Earlier this month, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb made public the state’s guidelines for reopening schools during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The governor released a comprehensive document with detailed guidelines for schools, students, nonstudents and parents to adhere to.

I spoke with Zionsville Community Schools (ZCS) Superintendent Dr. Scott Robison about the district’s priorities and challenges that he and the ZCS school board are considering and facing as we move closer to the start of the 2020–21 school year.

In an email to the school district dated on June 15, Dr. Robison stated, “If we have robust survey participation, we anticipate sharing a comprehensive return to school plan with you during the week of July 6–10. One of the things we have learned since March 12 of this year is that matters can change quickly in terms of the guidance and permissions we receive. ZCS will continue to communicate frequently about this matter as we near our students’ return to school on August 4.”

In his email, Dr. Robison announced that the district-wide survey was forthcoming.

 The State of Indiana’s Health Protocols for Schools—in Brief

Dr. Robison has been collaborating with neighboring school superintendents on best practices and procedures devised from the state’s health protocols—for their respective districts before submitting their plans to reopen and manage their schools throughout the pandemic to the Boone County Health Department for its approval.

Dr. Scott Robison

As stated on ZCS’ website: “Zionsville Community Schools is working closely with the Boone County Health Department, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to monitor an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19).”

The governor recommends social distancing, and ZCS is considering the following recommendations:

Schedule specified groups of students to attend in-person school on alternate days or half days to minimize the number of students in the building. Those students not attending in-person should be expected to engage in remote/continuous learning.

Provide in-person instruction to elementary students and increase distance learning opportunities for secondary grade levels.

Offer both in-person and remote or eLearning instruction based on student needs and parent concerns.

Dr. Robison emphasized, “We have looked at a number of recommendations, and none of those is off the table right now.”

Identifying ZCS’ Priorities and Purpose in the Community

When I asked Dr. Robison if the protocols and/or if a second “wave” of COVID-19 would impact how and when ZCS would reopen its schools, he replied, “While looking at our possible solution set, we created a list of priorities, and those priorities led off with the safety of the students, staff, families and the community [as a whole].”

Dr. Robison added that “ZCS’ highest purpose for the community is the district’s second priority.”

At the height of the pandemic’s initial surge in Indiana, ZCS was nationally recognized by FEMA and other organizations for its potential use of its high school as a “step-down” hospital.

“During that time, the highest purpose of the high school was to potentially house 100 beds,” Dr. Robison explained. “Now, we never actually used it because we didn’t have that big of a spike in Boone County. But you can bet that if we have a big spike in late July that we’ll be back ‘on,’ and the highest purpose for our district will be in accordance with priority No. 1 by keeping people safe by being a shelter or step-down hospital.”

Completing the Data Points and Proceeding With Guarded Optimism

According to Dr. Robison, ZCS campus leaders stepped up to assume task force positions as the district plans for the upcoming school year. He described the “two lanes” as Instruction—led by Assistant Superintendent Kris Devereaux—and School Operations/Facilities—led by Assistant Superintendent Rebecca Coffman.

“We haven’t done a survey on this yet, but we were thinking several weeks ago, when our task force turned its focus from completing the 2019–20 school year with eLearning to getting school open again for the upcoming school year, we posited that there would be a lot of people come August who will want us to ensure that they can go back to work and their kids will go back to school. So, we did the numbers and had assessments done by architects to determine how many students we can put in each of the spaces with some notion of social distancing.”

Dr. Robison continued, “Since then, we’ve seen all kinds of reports about does social distancing really work when you’re in a confined space for five-plus hours and how do you get a 5-year-old to wear a mask. At this point, I don’t see any notion that changing our calendar is required of us. It’s more of what we need to do and how to get the required 180 days in so that our students have a good and continuous school year.”

Providing Options for At-Risk Students and Families

Bear in mind that as COVID-19 guidance, recommendations and opinions of the medical and scientific communities change, so will the assessments and decisions made by Dr. Robison, the task forces and the school board. Dr. Robison stated that he and the working groups will compile the parent and staff surveys to assist with their planning, and if the governor should implement new or additional recommendations or guidelines, they will obviously equate those in their decision-making formulas.

Regarding the matter of ZCS providing options for families who will need eLearning or online options due to medical situations such as at-risk/high-risk family members within the household, Dr. Robison emphasized that he and the administrators are examining ways to offer comprehensive and quality learning experiences for our community’s students and families who will require online instruction.

He concluded, “Some parents may need their children to learn at home until a COVID-19 cure or vaccine is available, and so, a provision for online learning is under development.”

Visit the ZCS website for updates and previously published communications at zcs.k12.in.us.