Students at Indianapolis Public Schools could begin a phased-in return to the classroom on Oct. 5, if the COVID-19 infection rate in Marion County remains stable. The infection rate is the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19.
On Tuesday, district leaders announced new metrics that would allow for some in-person instruction for all students in the state's largest school district. The plan eases a threshold approved in July.
The decision to reopen buildings is based on a number of issues, Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said. Those include concern for the district’s youngest children, who have more trouble with virtual learning, and a low attendance rate that has yet to break 80 percent since the school year began.
Johnson said the current decline in the county's infection rate and the ability for other school districts to safely offer in-person teaching also led to the decision to prepare for return.
Since June, Marion County's seven-day average infection rate remained below 8 percent. Most recently, the county reported the average rate as 5.1 percent.
“My thinking is we are in a place where we’ve decreased those (infection) numbers substantially and can be thinking about and planning to bring those students back and aligning ourselves to the Marion County Health Department metrics,” Johnson said.
Now, the district's plan nearly mirrors the Marion County Public Health Department's guidelines for schools. An infection rate of greater than 5 percent and less than 11 percent allows for younger students in PreK-5 to return to school full-time, while older students follow a hybrid schedule.
If the infection rate remains below 5 percent, all students could return to school full-time.
Families can still opt out of returning to school and continue a virtual-only curriculum.
The district plan calls for some students to start in-person learning on Oct. 5:
- Week of Oct. 5: Students in pre-K to 3rd grade can return for full in-person learning; students in grades 4-12 will remain on full remote learning.
- Week of Oct. 12: full remote learning for all grades -- the week is formerly fall break.
- Week of Oct. 19: Students in grades pre-K-5 will return for full in-person learning. Students in Ggrades 6-12 will start hybrid learning.
Students in grades 6-12 would follow a hybrid schedule, meaning they would attend in-person class two days per week and remote learning during the other three days. Students whose last names start with A-M will attend Monday and Tuesday. Students whose last names start with N-Z will attend Thursday and Friday.
Wednesday is a mostly asynchronous lesson day for students in grades 6-12 — meaning, students will work independently on assignments and check in with their teachers — while the school is cleaned.
Some 6th grade students could attend in-person class full-time, if their schedule is not departmentalized.
It remains to be seen how class will look in individual schools, Johnson says. Students and staff will need to remain 3 to 6 feet apart, based on local and federal health guidelines. That may be difficult for some schools.
"All of this hinges on our families and who opts in to remote learning and opts into in-person learning," Johnson said. "There are certain implications for our ability to meet the distancing requirements based on which type of learning the students want to do.”
Families have until Sept. 21 to respond to a survey on whether they will attend in-person classes or choose the virtual-only option.
Before IPS announced virtual classes would be the only option when the school year began, a reopening plan for in-person class was released. So far, IPS spent $28 million on COVID-19 related expenses.
The district plans to reduce the number of students riding buses, and install touchless water fountains in buildings. Students and staff are required to wear face masks.
The IPS return to class plan is based on Marion County’s seven-day COVID-19 infection rate:
- 5 percent or less: all students full-time in-person or opt-in to full-time remote learning.
- 5.1 percent to 11 percent: Pre-K-6 full-time in-person or opt-in to remote learning; grades 7-12 hybrid schedule or opt-in to full-time remote learning.
- 11.1 percent to 13 percent: PreK-3 full-time in-person or opt-in to full-time remote learning; grades 4-12 full-time virtual.
- 13.1 percent and greater: all grades full-time virtual.
A public dashboard for positive COVID-19 cases within the district will be released, Johnson said. In Marion County, MSD of Wayne Township and other districts are making this data available.
Other Marion County school districts recently approved reopening plans that also align with the health department’s guidelines. Tuesday, MSD of Washington Township Schools announced a new return to school plan that will allow the youngest students to return, if they choose, on Oct. 12.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has continued mask requirements and eased some of the county’s restrictions, such as allowing more people inside businesses and restaurants, as the infection rate has declined.