State cancels in-person classes for remainder of school year, reports record unemployment


State officials announced today that all K-12 schools will not conduct in-person classes for the remainder of the academic year and that state initial unemployment filings have reached a record high.

“Students are the future of our state and teachers are the heart of our schools,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb stated. “While COVID-19 is impacting every classroom, our teachers, administrators, school board members and school staff are going to extraordinary levels to deliver quality learning to students all across our state, even while school buildings are closed. We’ll continue to do everything we can to empower educators and parents, while protecting students’ health.”

To meet the number of required school days, for the remainder of the academic year, schools must either complete 160 total instructional days or complete at least 20 more days of remote learning between today, the day of Holcomb signed an executive order outlining the changes, and the end of the academic year. If a school completes 20 days and falls short of the required 160 instructional days, the Indiana Dept. of Education can waive the difference, according to the executive order.

To complete the academic year, Holcomb granted all schools a 20-day waiver to reduce the number of required in-person or remote-instruction days to 160.

Indiana Supt. Of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said the 160 required days could consist of a total of in-person school days, eLearning days or other days of expanded school learning to meet the requirement.

McCormick said all school systems must submit a continuous learning plan by April 17 outlining the school system’s guidelines for parents and school children to follow.

“Our goal, given this very difficult situation, is to ensure that students have some type of continuous learning. It may not all be eLearning, but we are hopeful that we can offer some type of continuous learning to all of our kids,” McCormick said during a press conference.

But not all school systems have access to eLearning during the state’s stay-at-home order, which will run until at least April 7. Previously, state officials estimated that only half of all Indiana school systems have eLearning capabilities.

McCormick said all high school seniors who were on track to graduate before school closures on March 19 will be given the flexibility needed to earn an Indiana diploma. Any course seniors are enrolled in will count toward the needed school credits they need to graduate. However, middle school students and high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors will need to earn credits for classes in which they are enrolled “in a traditional manner,” McCormick said.

“If your school deems that they are struggling to get you instruction, and they don’t feel your work has been credit-worthy, that is up to the local districts,” McCormick said.

But she assured that 75 percent of the semester has been completed and that schools must grant credits for completed academic courses.

“Do we think we’re going to have gaps? Absolutely,” McCormick said. “It becomes now, how do we address the gaps.”

Today, state officials announced that all graduation requirement exams have been canceled and that teacher licenses set to expire between March 1 and Aug. 31 will be extended through Sept. 1. Some emergency teaching permit requirements will be waived. Rules for school bus passenger evacuation drills will also be waived.

It will now be left for individual schools to “be creative” if they are to hold graduation ceremonies, McCormick said.

“That’s a local decision, the department has no business getting in the middle of that,” McCormick said.

Depending on the pandemic’s impact, McCormick said, “Summer school may look different; next fall may look different.”

State officials also said today that 146,243 initial unemployment claims were filed in the week ending in March 28, a record for Indiana. The previous record for weekly initial unemployment claims was reported on Jan. 10, 2009, when 28,000 were filed during the peak of the Great Recession.

The state has waived the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits. The waiver is retroactive to the week of March 8, and benefits will be paid for the first week applicants are eligible.

In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, an over $2 trillion relief package passed by congress last week, will extend unemployment benefits to some who would not normally qualify, though this could take several weeks, state officials reported.

In the week ending on March 28, the U.S. Dept. of Labor reported 3,341,000 new initial unemployment claims, bringing its total to 6,648,000, the highest ever reported. Indiana reported 146,243 initial unemployment claims in the week ending on March 28, an increase of 59,755 from the week prior, according to the department. Indiana has reported the thirteenth highest number of claims by a state in the country. The state has the seventeenth largest population in the country, according to the latest estimates from the United States Census Bureau.