Indiana school districts grapple with reopening decisions

As Indiana schools rush to release reopening plans for the upcoming academic year, one Indianapolis district has said it will only hold classes online, raising questions as to whether others will follow suit to protect students and staff from the coronavirus.

Posted: Jul 14, 2020 8:13 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As Indiana schools rush to release reopening plans for the upcoming academic year, one Indianapolis district has said it will only hold classes online, raising questions as to whether others will follow suit to protect students and staff from the coronavirus.

Washington Township, which is among the state’s largest school districts with about 11,000 students last school year, announced Monday it won't reopen schools this fall. After approving plans last week to reopen with a brick-and-mortar option, the school board voted again Monday morning, this time moving all classes online.

"While several of the most significant numeric and statistical measures relating to the coronavirus continue to rise, and while we understand our continuing responsibility to address students’ educational, social and emotional needs, it is the Board’s judgment that the best course of action in the near term is not to have students return to the classroom while coronavirus indicators increase,” the school board said in a statement.

The district's concerns are not unfounded. Last week, Indiana recorded back-to-back highs in single-day increases in coronavirus cases — the most since early May. The Indiana State Health Department announced that over 52,000 Hoosiers have been diagnosed with the virus, with more than 2,700 Hoosiers dead. And Marion County, which includes Washington Township, has reported more than 12,000 confirmed cases and nearly 700 deaths.

The district, which serves more than 11,000 students on Indianapolis’ north side, will reopen beginning July 30, according to the school board. The district said it will reassess whether students can return to the classroom at every upcoming board meeting — it has seven scheduled the fall semester. But until the school board determines otherwise, classes will remain online.

The announcement comes on the heels of threats by President Donald Trump to hold back federal money if school districts don’t bring their students back in the fall. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, too, said last week that anything less than a full reopening would be a failure for students and taxpayers.

“It’s clear that our nation's schools must fully reopen and fully operate this school year,” DeVos said during a White House’s round-table July 7. “Anything short of that robs students, not to mention taxpayers, of their future.”

Last month, the Indiana Department of Education released recommendations for schools to use while developing reopening plans. The guidelines give local leaders the freedom to determine how their schools will operate during the pandemic, including whether classes will be offered in-person, online, or a mix of both. The Washington Township school board said it found itself in a “difficult position” due to the “limited specific guidance” from the state.

All other public school districts in Indianapolis are offering both in-person and online options. None others, so far, have announced changes to in-person reopening.

Other school leaders around the state are also beginning to announce their reentry plans, though uncertainty remains whether those plans will include options for students to enter physical classrooms.

The Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation in southern Indiana expects students to return to traditional learning environments Aug. 5. Northern Indiana school districts, including in South Bend and Mishawaka, plan to hold classes in school buildings beginning Aug. 12. And while masks will be required for students and teachers, in-person classes for Indianapolis Public Schools are slated start on Aug. 3.

Like dozens of others, Fort Wayne Community Schools — the largest public school district in the state — is still finalizing whether to bring students back with e-learning or to return to a traditional classroom setting. Fluctuating numbers of new coronavirus cases, school leaders say, could alter or delay current and developing reentry plans.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 614946

Reported Deaths: 9807
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion849231342
Lake45784693
Allen33103560
Hamilton29752316
St. Joseph27572383
Elkhart24496346
Vanderburgh19679255
Tippecanoe18150144
Johnson15234296
Porter14970172
Hendricks14550253
Madison11071223
Clark10852145
Vigo10819185
Monroe9496115
Delaware9193136
LaPorte9173164
Howard8325148
Kosciusko811485
Warrick683399
Hancock6783106
Bartholomew6659100
Floyd6522113
Wayne6194164
Grant6050118
Dubois559081
Boone557968
Morgan551996
Henry512365
Marshall507884
Dearborn488745
Cass487864
Noble476159
Jackson428747
Shelby423381
Lawrence395180
Clinton375845
Gibson375560
Harrison354046
DeKalb351365
Montgomery349754
Knox337839
Miami325244
Steuben315846
Whitley313126
Wabash306951
Adams303636
Ripley301646
Putnam299152
Huntington295760
Jasper293035
White275943
Daviess271776
Jefferson267738
Decatur249983
Fayette249949
Greene242763
Posey241828
Wells237551
LaGrange230363
Scott227939
Clay225032
Randolph215848
Jennings200937
Spencer193622
Sullivan193633
Washington189023
Fountain185227
Starke177044
Jay168723
Owen168338
Fulton165430
Orange161035
Carroll160616
Rush156418
Perry156129
Vermillion150034
Franklin149933
Tipton134433
Parke13098
Pike118826
Blackford112023
Pulaski97937
Newton92621
Brown88835
Benton87110
Crawford8099
Martin75013
Warren6867
Switzerland6695
Union6297
Ohio4967
Unassigned0375

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