LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Some Lafayette School Corporation families have concerns about how the school district is handling COVID-19 protocols.
"This story has progressed very quickly from us trying to get a bus driver to wear a mask to us getting COVID," said Hazey Shipp, a LSC parent.
Shipp's daughter Aiyana attends Tecumseh Junior High School. She had been virtual learning since March when they decided to give in-person learning a try in October.
"Tecumseh continually assured us that they were following all the CDC guidelines and their cases didn't seem to be on the rise," she said. "And so I said we'll try it but I said we may have to pull you at any point and time."
However, Aiyana soon became uncomfortable by what she saw.
"After the first day she came home and said it was fine but my bus driver wasn't wearing a mask," said Shipp. "She told me she felt scared."
"There was a lot of incorrect mask wearing like under the nose when teachers aren't around," said Aiyana of what she saw in the school.
Shipp said they did try to reach the head of transportation but could only get to the receptionist who have assurances they would look into it. She said she was also told they needed to get photo evidence before they could make a more drastic move. She said the burden of proof was placed solely on them and she felt it unfair to put that kind of pressure on her daughter.
LSC Assistant Superintendent, John Layton said the following in a statement:
"...it is our expectation that all students and staff wear masks. Our students and staff have been highly committed to mask wearing and social distancing and we have been very pleased with the response. In an organization where 7,500 students and 1,600 staff members are present there will be instances where someone fails to comply fully. Sometimes it is due to documented medical reasons. Sometimes people simply forget. We have addressed these issues when a need has been evident to do so but overall we are very pleased with compliance to the expectation."
Hazey and Aiyana live in a full household with Hazey's partner, Brishen Vanderkolk and their toddler daughter Magnolia. Vanderkolk's 68-year-old mother Linda, who has a high-risk lung condition, also lives with them. Vanderkolk lost his job in March due to the pandemic and stays at home with their kids to help with school. Hazey works at a local library. She said their sole focus was keeping the virus away from Linda.
After a few weeks back at Tecumseh, Shipp decided to cut the cord. She reached out to the principal to try and get Aiyana back to virtual learning.
"He said we weren't allowed to and that we would need some kind of note from Linda's doctor before it could be considered," she said.
Layton said the following in a statement:
"In regards to switching from in-person to eLearning, our reopening plan clearly stated that once a decision has been made by a parent to return to in-person learning that the student will stay in that learning environment moving forward. This is to protect the consistency of the student’s educational programming and to properly maintain staffing levels of both eLearning and in-person learning. We have had a few families provide medical documentation from a physician stating that eLearning is necessary for the well-being of the child and those requests have been honored.
Students are better served through in-person learning. Students are provided a warm, safe environment to attend school. Students are provided nutritious meals, access to school nurses, special needs interventions and mental health services. Our data indicate students engage in their learning more effectively in person than through eLearning. The Lafayette School Corporation works closely with the local health department personnel and they are pleased with how schools have operated under these challenging conditions."
Shipp said they were working on getting a doctor's note to provide LSC when their worst fears happened.
"Linda started experiencing really low oxygen levels and we were all experiencing cold symptoms by then," she said.
The family tested positive and Linda had to go to the ICU. The degree of symptoms varied between the family. Hazey and Aiyana had it worse with a cough and a burning-type sensation in the nose and throat. Brishen also had the burning feeling and some body aches but recovered quickly. Magnolia also got over her symptoms after a few days. Linda is still in the ICU almost a month later, but the family said she is doing better.
The doctors confirmed it was one of them who brought it into their home, and they are convinced it came from the school
"I feel a lot of anger because this was the exact situation we were trying to avoid," said Shipp. "I'm sure that this is how we were exposed to COVID and it means and our lives, especially his mom's life, are at risk because of it."
She said the school quickly and efficiently got Aiyana back to virtual learning after becoming COVID positive.
They aren't the only LSC family concerned with how the district is handling COVID protocols. A Vinton Elementary parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, keeps receiving emails from the school about positive cases, and wants to know why the school remains open.
"I keep getting these emails but they don't want to do nothing about it," he said.
He said he has a kindergartner at Vinton. He sent us five COVID notice emails from the past two and a half weeks. As we previously reported, Lafayette Jefferson High School was shut down for a two week period of time because of COVID exposure.
"It's concerning and frustrating because it's like is my kid going to get it? Are they going to bring it home?" he said. "And just because your kid hasn't been exposed does that mean it's ok to keep the school open?"
Layton said the following in a statement about Vinton Elementary:
"There were 5 Vinton notifications that went out during that time frame (Nov 12-Nov 30). We do that as suggested by the health department and to be totally transparent with our parents and families, however, the letters do not necessarily mean that the student was ever at school with COVID. In fact in two of those cases there were no close contacts traced at the school whatsoever. The school remains open because we are able to mitigate the risk of exposure and because there is not a staffing issue that would compromise student safety. I have stated in the earlier response why it is better for the schools to stay open if we can do so safely and in the specific case of Vinton we were able to do so safely during that time frame. We will continue to monitor each school on a daily basis."