Parents across Henry County are tired of COVID-19. More specifically, they are tired of their kids missing out on in-school instruction.
All Henry County schools went to virtual or eLearning the two weeks following Thanksgiving and the two weeks following winter break. The enforced quarantines were designed to contain any COVID-19 cases to infected families, rather than spread the virus through the schools.
Tri and New Castle school boards heard community concerns this week about getting back to normal. The Henry County COVID-19 Advisory Board was scheduled to make recommendation Wednesday about resuming in-person learning.
South Henry parents of children that attend Tri Elementary and Tri Jr. Sr. High School decided their voices needed to be heard regarding virtual learning for students. Realizing that complaining to one another would do no good, they brought their opinions upon the school board Tuesday.
“I have a first grader and a sophomore that attend Tri. I need you to know how strongly I feel for my children to be back in face-to-face schooling,” Tri parent Stacey Craft told the South Henry School Board. “Virtual school has been very difficult, stressful, and ineffective for my first grader. I don’t blame the school for this, I understand your hands are tied, but I can’t continue to watch my child fall behind.”
Craft also noted that she worries about students whose parents are unable to assist with their virtual learning due to work schedules.
Board member Justin Cox agreed with the statements Craft made.
Cox added, “My children have always been great students. Virtual learning, however, has really taken a toll on one of my children. I refuse to watch him suffer and his education to decline … something has to give here.”
South Henry Superintendent Wes Hammond reminded the board and South Henry families that the Henry County Health Dept. was scheduled to meet Wednesday, Jan. 13, regarding the allowance of in-person schooling to resume.
The same tribulations are being felt in New Castle.
School board president Travis Callaway told his board Monday that he’s been approached by Trojan families who are struggling to keep food on the table, on top of having to worry about virtual schooling.
“It’s just a constant struggle,” Callaway said. “There’s a lot of families that don’t have jobs right now. And the ones that do have jobs, they are working 8-10 hours a day and then when they get home, they’ve got to make sure their kid’s on task and they’re doing what they need to do.”
He praised New Castle’s teachers, but asked the administration to be mindful that there are families who are “ready to snap.”
New Castle Superintendent Dr. Matt Shoemaker explained that classes might resume in person Tuesday, Jan. 19, if COVID-19 cases stay under control in the city.
“What it boils down to is the number of quarantined staff that we have,” Shoemaker told his board.
Safely conducting school includes transporting, feeding and teaching students, as well as cleaning and sanitizing the classrooms and facilities. Shoemaker said every New Castle staff member who had been sick or quarantined before Christmas is on track to return to their school buildings on Tuesday.
“If we’ve got a sufficient staff, we need to have kids in school, and we’re committed to having kids in school. And that’s what we all want,” Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker added that NCCSC received $100,000 that will be used specifically to help remediate students who have fallen behind, whether it is after school or over the summer.
Elementary, middle and high school principals also updated the New Castle School Board this week on ways their teachers and counselors have adapted to teaching inside a pandemic.
Eastwood Principal Jacob White said the elementary schools had an easy transition to virtual because New Castle Community School Corporation already had programs in place to monitor student growth and areas where they struggle.
New Castle Middle School Principal Adam McDaniel referred back to the analogy of building an airplane mid-flight. He said the eLearning model in the spring was akin sitting on the runway. The new “virtual academy” model is helping keep the plane in the air, as it were.
Still, in-person learning is more effective than virtual, McDaniel said. The foundational relationship that lead to deep learning are built in person.
New Castle High School Principal Kirk Amman told the school board and listening parents that his teachers have taken steps to address the sharp rise of F grades they are seeing.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Grades are not as good when you go virtual,” Amman said. “This is a local, state and nationwide issue.”
Henry County families should know before the weekend if their kids will be back in the classrooms after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As always, of course, that can change with the COVID-19 numbers.
The Spiceland Town Council is keeping the same leadership in 2021. Its first meeting of the year was Tuesday, when they also handled new and old orders of business.
Spiceland Town Council President Darrin Jacobs couldn’t help but grin when council Vice President Pam Stigall nominated him to once again serve as council president. Jacobs was the only nomination and the voting passed unanimously 5-0. The council was unanimous in selection Stigall to continue as vice president, as well.
After elections were decided and finalized, Spiceland Town Superintendent Jeff Lane provided his December report. One of the topics brought up was the Dollar General project that’s currently going on in Spiceland.
“It’s coming along,” Lane said. “The only problem we are facing is the delay on materials due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some materials that usually take three to four weeks are now taking up to 12 weeks.”
The Town Council also discussed a possibility of a rate study in 2021 for water, and have also been discussing the storm sewers and drainage problems a lot of folks are having in Spiceland.
The next order of business was to vote on the contract of their city attorney. They approved the contract for Tracy Newhouse, who is also Rushville’s city attorney.
The city attorney serves as the chief legal adviser for the city and all departments and offices in matters that relate to their official powers and duties.
The last order of business for the Spiceland Town Council was about a complaint the town had received over a Facebook post. The post alleged that a local woman had too many animals in her house, going against the Spiceland ordinance which is four animals per household.
The ordinance grandfathered in Spiceland residents who had more than four animals before the new rules went into effect.
Heather Hamilton, Spiceland resident since 2010, attended the meeting on Monday and had to explain herself for the complaint. Hamilton has two dogs and 14 cats. She said many of the animals are older and two are fosters.
Hamilton said she has worked in Animal Welfare for 12 years and currently works for the Hancock County Humane Society.
The Henry County Humane Society came out to check Hamilton’s house for safety, overall shape of the house and to see if the living conditions were up to code with how many animals she has.
The Henry County Humane Society determined after a thorough walk through and inspection that Hamilton’s living conditions were great and she had proper care and proper treatment for all her animals.
“All my animals are properly taken care of with all vaccinations and all shots,” Hamilton told the council.
The Town Council came up with an agreement, declaring that Hamilton can keep her animals as long as she does not replace the animals after they are gone, at least until she gets a lot closer to the ordinance.
“She seems like she’s a very good owner, and honestly I really don’t want to make her get rid of them,” Jacobs said.
Eight foster homes in two years. A sibling suicide. Yes, struggles are no strangers to Matt Peiffer.
But the former Blue River Valley student and Henry County resident has done more than survived. Now, he wants to help others thrive.
Peiffer, who was part of the boots on the ground in recent Georgia Senate runoff campaigns, has already had his name on a ballot. It won’t be the last time.
Don’t call him a politician, though.
“I am an advocate, not a politician,” Peiffer said in an interview with The Courier-Times. “I don’t want power. I want to see others grow. I don’t want to be at the top making decisions for them. I want to stand next to them and guide them through the struggles, show them that no matter where they come from, they have the opportunity to thrive.”
A recent candidate for Muncie City Council, Peiffer lost to Ro Selvey in a Delaware County GOP caucus. But he’s already planning to run in a regular election for an at-large seat in the 2023 election.
Whether he’s in Georgia or Muncie, Peiffer says he carries a part of Henry County with him, people instrumental in helping him overcome life’s pitfalls.
“I have loved the people that I grew to know as a young adult,” Peiffer said. “I was 16 years old when I was placed in a foster home in Mt Summit. I grew to get involved with the Mt Summit Christian Church and make a lot of good friends and connections.
“I grew to know Nate LaMar and help him out in some of his campaigns,” Peiffer continued. “I lost my younger sister who committed suicide a month after she turned 18. Henry County will always have piece of my heart. Because when she took her life she took part of my heart with her. And she had a tombstone plot at the Mt. Summit Cemetery.”
With a host of local friends behind him, Peiffer found a way to move past foster home struggles and the tragedy of his sister. He obtained a G.E.D. from Ivy Tech and became a familiar face as a Walmart manager, server for Steak ‘n Shake and employee at Flying J.
“I made a lot of good friends with those roles, some I still know to this day,” Peiffer said.
Peiffer has been a political activist whose actions back up his beliefs and whose survival instinct is now helping others.
“As an advocate I do run a nonprofit – A VOICE FOR KIDS INC, a 501(c)3 based out of Delaware County. During the election process, we provided 270 foster kids with gifts this Christmas, which was a great accomplishment for us, not only in Delaware County but Henry County and all over the State of Indiana.”
Peiffer wants to champion change for child abuse victims. He has actually suggested legislation to U.S. Sen. Todd Young that would create a national database to track child abusers. He hopes his efforts on Young’s behalf to help the Georgia senatorial candidates will be remembered and possibly rewarded with attention to the child abuse prevention legislation.
While he works for and believes in the Republican Party mission, Peiffer also hopes change is on the horizon within the Grand Old Party.
“Republicans don’t hate anybody,” Peiffer stressed. “Well, certain Republicans yes, maybe. But so do certain Democrats. I want people to remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s words – to not to judge people by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.
“I believe the Republican party needs to embrace the up-and-coming generation of voters and show them what we stand for,” Peiffer continued. “How we see eye-to-eye on a lot of subjects. Like equal rights and pay for women and LGBTQ+ rights. I believe if you choose to like the same sex, that’s OK. And a lot of Republican voters feel the same way, we believe that everybody, regardless of race should be treated equally. No matter what your look like, you deserve to have the same right and privilege that I have.”
Peiffer said he was frustrated with the broad brush Democrats often use to portray Republicans.
“I just believe the media likes to paint us as bad people, when, in reality, we just want to work hard and take home what we make instead of the government taking half of it. And maintain freedoms to do the things we love, like our 2nd Amendment and freedoms to worship, among others given to us in the Constitution.”
Peiffer’s final comment was a wish and a hope that should transcend politics.
“I hope the people of the community understand it doesn’t take much to smile at that random person on the street,” he said. “You don’t know what they are going through. Just be a good neighbor. It doesn’t take much to love others.”