Indiana releases guidelines for safely reopening K-12 schools in the fall

Not all of the recommendations listed will be required by the state, since the pandemic has impacted each county differently


As states begin to release plans for safely returning students to school in the fall, many parents worry about the impacts. Image: BethConyers/Portland Public Schools via TNS

Greensburg Daily News
By Kevin Green

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana school districts will be able to reopen this fall, despite a spring marked by school closures and virtual learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Indiana Department of Education released a 38-page document earlier this month providing guidelines for K-12 schools to reopen in the fall after closing in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Review the full document below.) Indiana is one of the first states in the nation to release a plan for resuming school this fall.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick held a webinar this week to further explain the document and answer questions from educators and parents.

The document, Indiana’s Considerations for Learning and Safe Schools or IN-CLASS, covers many conditions for districts to consider when determining how to safely reopen schools. McCormick reiterated multiple times during the webinar that all of the recommendations listed will not be required by the state because every county has been affected by the pandemic in different ways.

In general, the guidelines recommend all schools have an area separate from the nurse’s clinic to be used for students and staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, like fever and shortness of breath, to be evaluated and wait for pick up. Only essential staff would be allowed to enter this room.

The guidelines ask schools to emphasize frequent handwashing, but to stagger the practice between classes to promote social distancing. Educators are advised to build in opportunities for students to wash their hands at the start of the school day, before eating, after using the restroom, after blowing a nose, coughing or sneezing, and after using shared equipment.

If soap and water isn’t available, schools have been asked to provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol by volume.

Multiple suggestions in the document address how educators can promote social distancing in schools.

Some options include scheduling specific groups of students to attend in-person school on alternate days to lessen the number of students in the building. These students would be expected to participate in distance learning on days they are not in the school building.

Other options recommend providing in-person instruction to elementary students while increasing distance learning for higher grade levels. Like many of the recommendations, this gives school districts flexibility in deciding how to approach learning in the fall.

But this flexibility also gives some parents pause as school districts start to unpack the recommendations and make the decisions that will affect school children in the next academic year.

Ashley Kay, 35, has three children in Spencer-Owen Community Schools, the public-school district in Spencer, Indiana. Her daughters Madison, 15, and Jaylan, 14, go to Owen Valley High School, while her son, Jack, 8, will be a third grader at Spencer Elementary School.

Kay does not care for the idea of her children only going to school certain days of the week. She would like the choice to be up to parents whether or not to send their children back full time.

“I just feel that they’re trying to tell me what I can do with my family and my kids,” Kay said.

To minimize exposure, IN-CLASS proposes that cafeterias not be used. Instead, students would eat boxed or bagged meals at their desks in the classrooms.

It is also recommended to space out desks in classrooms to accommodate social distancing and move classes outdoors whenever possible.

When it comes to transportation, IN-CLASS suggests limiting the number of students per bus to follow social distancing guidelines, but this may require districts to get more school buses. And if that isn’t possible, McCormick said schools will need to consider providing masks to students.

“If social distancing isn’t feasible, then that’s where the importance of masks come in,” McCormick said in the webinar.

McCormick said the governor’s office plans to distribute two million masks among Indiana schools with money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.
Kay said that she would be fine with schools going back to how they normally were before the pandemic, without precautions like masks and social distancing.

I wish that they would go full time as soon as fall starts,” Kay said. “The studies have shown that kids their age are least likely to get COVID-19. I am ready for regular activities to start.”

She worries that her children wouldn’t receive the instruction they need to fully learn. She said when schools shut down and transitioned to distance learning in March, it did not work well for her children.

“We need to get back to structure with five days a week and seeing a teacher six hours a day,” Kay said. “The e-learning for the last two months of school was not beneficial for my kids at all.”

It remains to be seen how exactly school districts will interpret the state recommendations, and the department of education continues to field questions from educators about how to safely reopen.

But McCormick and other state leaders continue to urge educators and parents to embrace flexibility. She said during the webinar, for example, that a document with guidelines for instructional minutes will be released this Friday. The goal of the document is to help teachers structure their days around restrictions designed to ensure schools can operate in a safe manner.

It makes me nervous when people talk about, ‘If we can’t do X, we’re not going at all.’ I think the goal of many of us is to get in,” McCormick said. “It may not look exactly how we want it to look, and those hours may not look like they did traditionally, but given the situation with COVID, you’re going to have to have some flexibility.”

Review IN-CLASS: COVID-19 Health and Safety Re-entry Guidance:

June 5 Class Document by Ed Praetorian on Scribd

(c)2020 the Greensburg Daily News (Greensburg, Ind.)