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Indiana fall school reopening details updated
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Indiana fall school reopening details updated

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Superintendent answers questions on fall school reentry guidance

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick answers questions from school leaders about fall school reentry in a Tuesday morning webinar.

Indiana's state superintendent of public instruction expanded Tuesday morning on guidance provided to local school districts last week on students' safe return to classrooms in the fall.

A 38-page guidance document — shared Friday as a collaboration between Indiana's education, health and social services departments — provides broad recommendations for how school districts can meet 180 days of required instructional time, while leaving many decisions up to local school boards and health officials.

In a nearly 90-minute webinar Tuesday morning, McCormick outlined the guidance and addressed commonly asked questions posed by school leaders.

Scheduling of school days — including start and end dates for the school year, possible hybrid in-person and distance learning plans, and more — will largely be left up to local district leaders to decide with school board approval.

The state is not considering imposing a universal start of school date this year, McCormick said, given how different coronavirus planning and response may be across Indiana's 92 counties.

"What COVID looks like in Marion County, it may look different from Cass County, may look different than Lake County and down in Evansville Vanderburgh," Indiana Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said. "Our state is very different on what COVID looks like. Your capacity, your communities, your resources look very different."

Several Northwest Indiana superintendents have expressed a desire to survey students' parents to see what educational models and alternative school schedules work best for families in their communities. Many have been waiting for the state's guidance to move forward with such plans.

Additional state guidance on instructional minutes requirements will come to school leaders later this week, McCormick said.

School facilities can reopen as early as July 1, under Gov. Eric Holcomb's executive orders. The state's recent Indiana's Considerations for Learning and Safe Schools, or IN-CLASS, guidance outlines a three-tiered plan for phasing in student activities this summer beginning July 6.

While the guidance leans toward student athletic participation, recommendations can be applied to summer performing arts, clubs and other extracurricular activities, as well, McCormick said.

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Masks in schools will not be a requirement at the state level, but officials are advising their use in areas of close proximity where social distancing is more difficult, such as on bus rides to school.

The governor's office is planning to purchase 2 million masks ranging in child to adult sizes to be distributed by the Indiana Department of Education, McCormick said.

The state superintendent provided further explanation of coronavirus mitigation guidance requesting schools to close for a period of two to five days if a documented positive case is found in connection with a school building.

"We've had a lot of people question that because they're concerned about the potential of being in and out, in and out, and the inconsistency with that, and the opening and closing of that putting a hardship on families with day care, the inconsistency with educational disruptions," McCormick said.

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Schools can work with their local health departments for guidance and could, based on a district's ability to clean schools, set a different timeline for reopening a building, McCormick said.

All guidance in the recent IN-CLASS document is fluid, McCormick said, based on changing recommendations from state and local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any changes to the state guidance will be updated within the guidance and logged at the end of the document.

"Our goal, obviously, and I think the local health departments', is to return, but we have to do it in a safe manner," McCormick said.

The full school guidance document is available on the IDOE website at doe.in.gov.

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