State launching new guidelines for schools during pandemic

One month after Indiana schools reopened their doors for in-person classes, state officials are releasing new recommendations for school operations and potential closures during the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted: Sep 1, 2020 6:41 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — One month after Indiana schools reopened their doors for in-person classes, state officials are releasing new recommendations for school operations and potential closures during the coronavirus pandemic.

The color-coded system, expected to go live Wednesday, assigns scores to counties based on three key metrics: the number of new cases per 100,000 residents, positivity percentage and change in percent positivity from the previous week.

Those scores then coordinate with a color-coded rating system for the county’s level of community spread and risk. It was not immediately known how often the scores would be updated.

A blue color designation indicates minimal community spread. Schools can operate in person for all grades but limit activities where social distancing isn't feasible.

Yellow indicates moderate community spread of the virus. In this stage, the state suggests schools increase vigilance around mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing and consider limiting attendance at athletic events to parents and close family.

A county in orange is experiencing moderate to high community spread, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said. In this case, grade schools are recommended to continue in-person instruction, and a hybrid approach should be considered for middle and high school students.

In red counties, the state suggests middle and high schools move to virtual learning and cancel all assemblies and extra-curricular activities.

Still, the new system provides only recommendations, not mandates, meaning public and private schools can choose not to follow them. Districts are not required to test to test students, teachers or school staff, and there are no penalties for schools that don't comply with the state's rating system.

Box said schools in all but the hardest hit counties should remain open for at least some level of in-person instruction. School districts should also “make every effort” to keep at least one school building open — regardless of infection rate — to assist students with remote learning and ensure a safe environment, Box continued.

Aside from a face coverings mandate for students in third grade and up, Indiana officials have so far held back on any state requirements for if or how schools should open. Box and Gov. Eric Holcomb have maintained it’s up to to local leaders to craft and follow their own back-to-school plans. They’ve also continued to encourage districts to reopen for in-person instruction if at all possible.

School districts, teachers and families across Indiana have pleaded for the state to issue specific guidance based on COVID-19 infection rate thresholds since early in the summer. Indiana State Teachers Association Keith Gambill said members of his union believe the new statewide metrics are an “important step in the right direction,” but noted that some of the recommendations ”could be more stringent in counties with high community spread."

Terry Spradlin, Executive Director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said the new rating system “is a necessary guide” that schools should turn to as COVID-19 infection rates fluctuate.

But ahead of the new system’s release, many local district leaders remain reticent.

In southwestern Indiana's Daviess County — put in the “red” category under the state's new rating parameters — Barr-Reeve Community Schools Superintendent Travis Madison said he's “not sure if this new system will really help that much.” District leadership was already paying daily and hourly attention to coronavirus cases across the county and within schools, he continued, which was being used to inform decisions about school operations.

Neighboring Washington Community Schools Superintendent Daniel Roach said the “red” rating for Daviess County “was not presentative" of infection rates within school buildings. After the district conferred with the county health department, Roach said the decision was made not to close any schools.

Clemen Perez-Lloyd, interim superintendent at southern Indiana's West Clark Community Schools, said she thinks decisions about schools opening or closing "should be made based on the impact in your local district and area.”

Countywide data might look different from what's happening more locally, Perez-Lloyd said, adding that's why her district's schools have been coordinating with the county health department to make decisions regarding opening and closing schools.

___

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.

Confirmed Cases: 110759

Reported Deaths: 3503
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion20645758
Lake10172317
Elkhart6321108
St. Joseph600797
Allen5921200
Hamilton4646109
Vanderburgh327129
Hendricks2638121
Monroe236836
Johnson2250122
Tippecanoe218413
Clark210156
Porter203344
Cass19279
Delaware184261
Vigo175722
Madison156575
LaPorte135637
Floyd130061
Howard127063
Kosciusko118717
Bartholomew114557
Warrick111935
Marshall98024
Boone94446
Dubois94018
Hancock90042
Noble87632
Grant86733
Henry75424
Wayne73714
Jackson7319
Morgan69438
Shelby66329
Daviess63927
LaGrange62911
Dearborn62128
Clinton59112
Harrison55624
Putnam5209
Montgomery50221
Lawrence50028
White47814
Knox4769
Gibson4644
Decatur45339
DeKalb44211
Miami4223
Fayette41713
Greene41535
Jasper3802
Steuben3647
Scott35310
Sullivan32812
Jennings30812
Posey2940
Franklin29325
Clay2925
Orange28224
Ripley2788
Carroll26913
Wabash2608
Washington2571
Starke2487
Wells2472
Whitley2476
Adams2403
Jefferson2403
Fulton2302
Huntington2173
Spencer2154
Tipton21522
Randolph2067
Perry20213
Newton17011
Jay1680
Owen1641
Martin1590
Rush1494
Pike1361
Vermillion1250
Fountain1152
Blackford1142
Pulaski1131
Crawford1020
Brown1013
Parke932
Benton880
Union770
Ohio767
Switzerland680
Warren401
Unassigned0225

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

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