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.
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
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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