North Knox School students returned to in-person learning Thursday for the first time since Christmas break — a decision superintendent Dr. Darrel Bobe stands by.

With Knox County now in the midst of a post-holiday surge of coronavirus cases, Bobe told members of his board of trustees this week that utilizing e-learning for the initial eight school days after Christmas break, was the right call.

“I now look at some of the calls we made and the number of staff members who couldn’t have come back because of COVID issues, and I’m really glad we waited until the 14th to return,” he said.

“As you can see, there was a rise back to red again,” Bobe said, referencing the county’s status on the state’s COVID metric dashboard.

Knox County this week was moved to red — or the most severe designation on the state Department of Health’s color-coded COVID-19 dashboard — with 54 new cases reported on Thursday.

While he’s glad North Knox utilized e-learning as it did after the break, Bobe says it’s a difficult balancing act, noting he wants students to experience as many in-person opportunities as they can while in school while not being unsafe during a pandemic.

“You have to think of any ways you can continue giving them that experience, but you also have to be careful not to cross that line which could end up stopping the experiences altogether,” Bobe said. “It’s tough.”

One traditional experience school officials want to offer high school students this year is homecoming.

During Wednesday night’s school board meeting, trustees discussed possibilities of safely hosting a basketball homecoming ceremony, while acknowledging that it still won’t look like typical celebrations of the past.

“We still have to figure out a plan, but we felt like we needed to have a game in there that helps the kids and the parents,” Bobe said.

Beyond discussions of COVID procedures, Bobe says the first meeting of the new year was relatively simple, but noted he was pleased that the 2021 budget order was officially approved.

School systems across the state drafted their budgets carefully, preparing for the possibility of cuts due to tax revenues lost as a result of COVID-19.

The more than $32 million dollar spending plan will settle out to a tax rate of only 61 cents, significantly less than the rate of $1.28 per $100 of assessed value advertised in the fall.

“For what we’re doing, the tax rate is really low for the state of Indiana — probably one of the lowest ones in the state,” Bobe said.

In other news, the school welcomed Kate Hammelman as the newest board member. She replaces Vaughn Huey.

The Vincennes Community School Corp. also delayed the return to in-person instruction following Christmas break. Students there returned to the classroom on Thursday as well.

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