Students in the Indianapolis Public Schools district started their first day of classes Monday and for many it will be their third year academic year since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the district announced last week that all students and staff are required to wear masks indoors. As of Monday, IPS is the only Marion County school district to require masks for all students, regardless of their vaccination status.
Other school districts, such as Pike and Washington townships, allow students to remove face coverings for no more than 10 minutes if they are socially distanced and receive approval from a teacher. Some districts in the county only require masks for unvaccinated students or have made masks optional.
For Center for Inquiry School 2 sixth grader Coreyae, going back to school in-person means she can see her friends, teachers and use electronics in school.
“I’m a sixth grader now and I can have my phone out,” Coreyae said.
But that’s one activity some educators are trying to reduce. After spending so much time behind computer screens during remote learning, physical education and health educator Jordan Leonard said he’s excited that students will be able to start exercising again.
“They went from sitting behind a screen for 16 months,” Leonard said. “So just getting them to put those down and enjoy moving again is the biggest goal this year.”
A majority of students didn’t get 60 minutes of recommended daily movement during online learning. And juggling fluctuating COVID-19 safety protocols can make things even more challenging.
“The challenging part will be, since we're still in the middle of a pandemic, weathering it as everything keeps changing,” Leonard said. “Last week we were told we didn't have to wear masks if we're vaccinated. And then all of a sudden, we have to wear masks again. So just like keeping up with all the different protocols, getting the students adjusted to all those protocols and just weathering the storm as we go through it.”
Despite the changes, Leonard said he’s finding ways to connect with students while also following the district’s COVID-19 protocols.
“Sometimes the students really have to speak up because the mask kind of like muffles what they're saying,” Leonard said. “So just getting students [to] really almost yell. Especially in the gym, you almost have to yell at the teacher. And it feels really weird to them. So just getting them to understand it's okay.”
Of the 11 Marion County school districts, seven have started school in person — Perry, Warren, Wayne, Beech Grove, Franklin, Decatur and IPS. Lawrence, Pike and Speedway school districts return Tuesday, and Washington Township begins on Wednesday.
Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.