State officials release guidance for reopening schools

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State officials earlier today released a 37-page document outlining guidance for Indiana schools that wish to hold in-person classes starting July 1.

“We believe, where we are right now, schools can and should open for instruction, and we wouldn’t have made that decision or endorsed the proposal to go forward if we thought otherwise,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said.

The guidance, called Indiana’s Considerations for Learning and Safe Schools, or IN-CLASS, aims to prepare schools for in-person classes during the pandemic. Factors of chief importance when considering in-person schooling will be a school’s ability to ensure the health and safety of children and employees and the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community.

Per an executive order from Holcomb, schools will be able to resume in-person classes starting July 1.

The guidance calls for schools to consider ways to implement social-distancing measures. Some options proposed in the guidance include scheduling groups of students to attend in-person school on alternate days or half days to minimize the number of students in the building. Districts/schools could also consider year-round schooling with alternating breaks to minimize the numbers of students in the building at any time. They could provide in-person instruction to elementary students and increase distance-learning opportunities for secondary grade levels. And they could offer both in-person and remote instruction based on student need and parent concerns.

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the guidance uses “the basic premises and the important things that we know that the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has said about opening up anything across the state and then applying those to our school systems.”

Students and staff who exhibit the symptoms of COVID-19 or believe they may have the disease are still expected to stay home. Additionally, students and staff should stay home if someone in their household has COVID-19 symptoms or is being tested for COVID-19, according to the guidance, and if they do come to school, it says they should be sent home immediately. Should someone on the premises contract COVID-19, the school is obligated to contact its local health department and notify the Indiana Dept. of Education.

State statute gives public school districts the authority to exclude students who have a contagious disease. In addition, local health departments have the authority to exclude students from school and may order students and others to isolate or quarantine, according to the guidance. Those students not attending in-person should be expected to engage in remote learning.

CDC guidance recommends all students and staff be screened before entering a school. Screening can consist of self-screening, school-based screening, and/or medical inquiries, according to the guidance. The type and extent of screening is at the discretion of the district/school. Some schools, for example, may opt to use touch-free thermometers, while others may not be able to afford the expense; others may opt to only screen students and staff who they believe need to be screened.

Districts/schools are encouraged to provide professional development to train staff to implement the new measures.

Once in-person classes resume, students and staff are directed to follow state and local health directives, including the directive to wear a mask and follow social-distancing measures as frequently as possible at the direction of the district/school.

The guidance recommends each school have a room or space separate from the nurse’s clinic where students or employees who are feeling ill are evaluated or wait for pick up.

Other guidance recommendations to increase social distancing include the following.

Ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of children stay with the same staff as much as possible.

  • Close communal use spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds if possible. Otherwise, stagger use and disinfect in between use.
  • Reorganize P.E., choir, band, orchestra, and other large classes to allow for smaller classes, social distancing, and other precautions.
  • Eliminate or reorganize assemblies, field trips, registrations, orientations, round-ups, and other large gatherings to allow for social distancing.
  • Alternate recess to minimize the number of students on the playground, encourage social distancing, and allow time to disinfect equipment between uses.
  • Increase space between students during in-person instruction.
  • Move classes outdoors whenever possible.
  • Rearrange desks to increase space between students.
  • Face desks in the same direction.
  • Require students to remain seated in the classroom and assign seats.
  • Eliminate activities that combine classes or grade levels.
  • Eliminate or minimize whole staff gatherings/meetings.
  • Eliminate or minimize students traveling to different buildings to receive services.
  • Eliminate or minimize employees traveling between buildings.
  • Consider broadcasting in-class instruction to multiple locations to allow students to spread out and/or learn from home.
  • Consider a homeroom stay-in-place system where teachers rotate, as opposed to the students changing classrooms.
  • Limit or eliminate classroom visitors.
  • Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high touch materials to the extent possible (art supplies, equipment, etc. assigned to a single child) or limit use of supplies and equipment by one group of children at a time and clean and disinfect between uses.
  • Avoid or minimize the sharing of electronic devices, toys, books, art supplies, and other games or learning aids when possible.
  • Discourage the use of attendance awards or perfect attendance incentives for students.

The state will implement a three-phase reopening for classes, leading up to August. To review the full guidance and the three phase reopening plan, visit https://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/news/june-5-class-document.pdf?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=.

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