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State education leaders give guidance for local leaders navigating COVID-19 closures
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State education leaders give guidance for local leaders navigating COVID-19 closures

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State Superintendent of Education Jennifer McCormick speaks at Merrillville High School

State Superintendent of Education Jennifer McCormick speaks to local teachers and school administrators at a February 2019 event at Merrillville High School.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Department of Education is working to stay on top of questions and provide guidance for educators as they navigate a new week of extended closures amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

In a new weekly webinar series directed toward state school leaders, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick gave an update of steps taken to date to best maintain operations during this extended period of school closures.

Schools began calling off in early March as COVID-19 reports in Indiana gradually grew — starting first with the Avon Community School Corp. on March 9 and extending to most of the state's schools by the end of that week.

Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a 20-day waiver on March 12, allowing schools to plan instructional eLearning days and penalty-free school closure days as local leaders saw fit.

A week later, the governor ordered all public and private schools in the state to close through May 1.

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School leaders have since worked to plan their exempt waiver days through the 20-day period, some spacing out eLearning days throughout the week.

But, questions still loom among school leaders about providing special education services remotely, distributing technology to families in need and proper reporting and use of waiver days.

Educators are required to provide support to students with disabilities on days a given school is open for eLearning, IDOE Director of Special Education Nancy Holsapple said.

McCormick said her team has been in contact with the governor's office about technology distribution in schools after a number of executive orders issued this week take effect at 10:59 p.m. Region time Tuesday.

A number of schools, such as the School City of Hammond, have launched Chromebook distribution efforts, to put technology in the hands of students with no home access to keep up with studies during prolonged school closures.

Such efforts are considered essential to school operations and are allowed, McCormick said while advising schools, if continuing with device distribution efforts, to do so while maintaining proper social distancing recommendations.

Waiver days do not need to be reported immediately, McCormick said Tuesday. Her advice to school administrators is to "wait until the end" of the COVID-19-related school closures, adding "the potential to be out the rest of the year is still there."

State testing requirements for spring exams like ILEARN, IREAD-3 and ISTEP+ have been waived.

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The department is also working with other state agencies to develop recommendations for school partnerships in providing child care services and in conducting spring teacher evaluations.

Further guidance on high school graduation requirements and teacher license renewal in this unusual spring semester will likely come by way of executive order, McCormick said.

"The work that's being done at the local level has been nothing short of amazing," McCormick said. "This has not been easy on anyone, but just know that your work is being recognized." 

More resources from the IDOE on COVID-19 response are available at doe.in.gov/safety/health/covid-19-resources-indiana-schools.

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