EAST CHICAGO — For many students in Northwest Indiana, masks will be optional for the upcoming school year, but that won't be the case for pupils in East Chicago.
According to a Return to Learn plan on the School City of East Chicago website, students and staff will need to have masks on them at all times next year and will be required to wear them in specified indoor and outdoor settings.
The district's plan outlines three levels based on how many "active exposure cases" of COVID-19 are present in the school buildings — green for no to low spread, yellow for minimal to moderate and red for substantial.
When the district is operating at the green level, the plan states schools will be open for in-person instruction adhering to the regular school day schedule. Classrooms will be situated with all seats facing the front and spread out as much as possible.
Students and staff will need to have a mask with them at all times, the plan states, and they will need to wear them when entering the schools, walking the hallways and in the bathroom. They also will need to wear masks when moving throughout a classroom and engaging in face-to-face interaction without social distancing.
But students will be allowed to remove their masks while eating lunch and during class time when they are all seated facing the same direction and spread out.
For those who take the bus, masks will be required at bus stops and while riding.
Students should bring their own masks to school every day or use the one provided in the Cardinal Wellness Kit the district plans to provide to each student. The kit will contain a mask, thermometer and hand sanitizer. If a student forgets to bring a mask, he or she should ask for one; classrooms will be supplied with replacements, the plan states.
The guidelines for when masks are and aren't required would be the same if the school were to move to the yellow level, but the plan states there would be additional precautions in place and potentially a hybrid schedule with students divided into two teams for two days of e-learning and two days of in-person instruction. If a particular school needed to close because of positive cases, it would switch to e-learning.
Moving to the red level would close school buildings in the district.
There will be an option for students to enroll in e-learning if they cannot return or if their families choose for them to not return to in-person learning in the fall. Families must stick with their decision to be in-person or remote throughout the fall semester. The plan states changes only will be made for COVID-19-related situations.
Unlike some other districts in the Region, e-learning at SCEC will be provided by teachers in the district and not a third party.
The plan also lists out other precautions such as symptoms to look for each day before sending students to school, when to keep them home and how to handle a positive case.