State gives schools guidance for reopening

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Department of Education released today its guidelines for schools reopening for the 2020-21 school year in light of COVID-19.

The 38-page document is titled Indiana’s Considerations for Learning and Safe Schools, or IN-CLASS, and includes guidance on preventative measures, such as training employees to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19, wearing masks for both students and staff, social distancing and closing communal spaces like cafeterias and playgrounds as much as possible.

“It’s nice to finally have this,” Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang said. “It’s comprehensive, it’s thorough, it’s not too restrictive. It makes it possible to go back to school.”

The guidelines were developed in partnership with the Governor’s Office, the Indiana State Department of Health, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, the Indiana High School Athletic Association and IDOE’s Reentry Advisory Group, comprised of practitioners and professional organizations.

“The health and safety of Hoosier students, school staff and communities is priority one,” said State Superintendent Dr. Jennifer McCormick. “Providing students with a quality education is critical, and therefore it is crucial we offer considerations focused on getting students back in the classroom in a safe manner. Considering the many unknowns associated with COVID-19, we also recognize the importance of alternative learning opportunities. We appreciate the thoughtful and collaborative spirit in which IN-CLASS was developed.”

In addition to guidelines on how to conduct classes this fall, the guidance also includes a phased plan for extracurricular activities, such as sports. Phase I begins July 6 and allows summer activities, such as conditioning and summer athletic practices to begin in a limited manner. Students will be limited to 15 total hours on school grounds each week, and each athletic activity will be limited to holding activities two days per week. All summer activities must be voluntary.

The challenge now will be for local administrators to take the guidelines and develop plans at the local level. North Spencer Superintendent Dan Scherry said that when putting the guidelines into practice, the key will be risk management. While the ideal would be keeping students 6 feet apart at all times and wearing masks at all times, the reality is that those measures won’t always be possible.

“Following those guidelines to the letter, I would challenge anybody who says they can do that,” Scherry said. “I don’t think it’s possible. But you can manage the risk.”

How to manage the risk has been a topic of discussion at North Spencer since schools first closed their doors in March, Scherry said. While developing specific plans had to wait for the guidance from the state, discussions of how to increase sanitizing and rearrange schedules to better enable social distancing have already begun. A big component will be changing the culture around pushing through when you don’t feel well. Before COVID-19, Scherry said, the idea was to push through and come to school as much as you can. Now, that mindset will have to shift to staying home if you’re showing any symptoms, even if they are mild.

In Dubois County, the four school corporations — Greater Jasper, Northeast Dubois, Southeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois — will work together to develop plans for reopening schools this fall. In May, the four corporations formed a task force to tackle developing reopening strategies. The guidelines released today will serve as a major guiding document for those plans.

While the guidance allows local school administrators to begin making more concrete plans for the fall, the situation is still fluid. The first day of school is two months away, and although it looks like schools will be able to reopen this fall, a second wave of COVID-19 could derail that. Two months ago, schools had just closed their doors as the pandemic ramped up, and local administrators know the possibility of having to close again exists.

“We’re preparing to have anywhere from a full go to 50% to 0%,” Scherry said.

Although plans for reopening schools are still in the beginning stages, Scherry and Hochgesang both stressed that the school day will be different from what everyone is used to this fall. But, at least for now, it looks like in-person instruction will be able to resume.

To view the state’s guidance, visit https://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/news/june-5-class-document.pdf. For more information on IDOE’s commitment to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, including up-to-date resources, visit: www.doe.in.gov/covid-19.


To view the state's guidance, click here. For more information on IDOE’s commitment to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, including up-to-date resources, visit: www.doe.in.gov/covid-19.




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