INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
With at least 31 positive cases of the coronavirus reported in Indiana
schools since buildings began reopening in late July, district leaders,
teachers and parents are pressuring state officials to identify benchmarks
for what would require schools to go back online as confirmed cases of the
handling positive cases and creating protocols for when schools need to
revert back to online-only learning now are left up to individual school
Aside from a face
coverings mandate for students in third grade and up, Indiana has no state
requirements for if or how schools should open. While the state issued
recommendations for cleaning procedures and social distancing inside
classrooms, it’s up to to local leaders to craft and follow their own
are now “adamant” that they want the state to identify when the spread of
the virus has become too much for students to come into schools, state
school superintendent Jennifer McCormick said.
Doing so means
setting thresholds, she said. Each school should have a plan indicating
that, when a certain percentage of people in the school or local population
test positive for COVID-19, the school knows how to respond. That might mean
taking extra days off for deep cleaning or moving the school entirely online
for a period of time.
In the Indianapolis
area, the Marion County Health Department’s guidelines indicate that schools
can fully reopen and have all students in their buildings at once as long as
the positivity rate in the county remains below 5%. When the county rate is
6% to 10%, middle schools and high schools must operate at half-capacity. A
positivity rate of 11% to 12% forces middle and high schools to move
completely online, and a rate of 13% or higher would cause all in-person
instruction within schools to go on hold.
As schools continue
to reopen, few districts have those numbers figured out yet.
Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation, where a student tested
positive for the virus on the first day back to class, Superintendent Harold
Olin said that the district east of Indianapolis does not have a specific
threshold yet for when it would close a school, but that it would likely do
so if absences reached 20%.
Still, making those
decisions to close schools should be left up to medical experts, not the
department of education, McCormick said.
That position puts
her at odds with Gov. Eric Holcomb and Health Commissioner Kristina Box, who
maintain there’s no reason for statewide benchmarks.
Holcomb has said
that brick-and-mortar school re-openings are safe. On Wednesday, the
Republican governor reemphasized “confidence” in local leaders to decide
what’s best for their districts.
Box has said she
“continue(s) to believe that our schools can safely reopen,” adding that
having a case of COVID-19 at a school “should not be a cause for panic or a
reason to close.” She’s so far denied that the state would mandate
benchmarks for school closures.
But if schools
don’t offer an-person option for students - even during the pandemic - they
could see their budgets slashed.
president, Republican Rod Bray, emphasized to school leaders in a letter
sent Thursday that state law caps per-pupil funding for students who take at
least half their classes virtually to 85% of basic tuition support.
That means school
districts only offering online instruction to minimize the potential spread
of COVID-19 could lose 15% of their basic per student funding, equivalent to
losing $855 in funding per student. Bray has not clarified whether the
funding cut would apply to schools operating online for only part of the
school year, or to schools that want to open but aren’t able to because of
mandates from their county health departments.
Already, at least
31 districts plan to start their school years online, McCormick said. The
state superintendent is calling on Holcomb to hold a special legislative
session to “honor the promise he made to Hoosier children to provide
sustainable funding to K-12 schools.”
Holcomb and other
state leaders promised the opposite in June, maintaining that public schools
would remain fully funded regardless of whether students are attending class
in-person or online. In a statement to The Associated Press sent Friday
evening, Holcomb said his position had not changed on school funding.
“As I’ve said
before, I am committed to providing 100 percent funding to schools as they
navigate the unprecedented challenges of opening the academic year during
the COVID-19 pandemic,” Holcomb said. “They all need our support now more