NewsEducation / July 13, 2020

Marion County Health Director Says It's Safe For Schools To Reopen

Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent Aleesia Johnson and Dr. Virginia A. Caine, director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department, during a virtual forum for IPS families on Monday, July 13, 2020. - Zoom

Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent Aleesia Johnson and Dr. Virginia A. Caine, director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department, during a virtual forum for IPS families on Monday, July 13, 2020.

Zoom

After Washington Township Schools announced Monday it will only offer virtual classes when school resumes, the director of the Marion County Public Health Department said it’s safe for students to return to classrooms if safety guidelines are followed.

Dr. Virginia Caine said the spread of COVID-19 and deaths linked to the virus in Marion County are at levels far below the peak in late April when confirmed cases numbered more than 300 a day. In the past two weeks, Caine said, there are less than 60 people on average reported with an infection each day. Hospitalizations have also stabilized.

“So we feel, based on the science and the numbers that we are seeing now, in terms of where we are with this epidemic, that we feel it's OK for schools to reopen,” Caine said during an online forum hosted by Indianapolis Public Schools.

Last month Caine released guidelines for school districts to follow. All 11 Marion County school superintendents agreed to follow them, such as requiring masks for all students on buses, and distancing students at least three feet apart in classrooms.

But the Washington Township Schools Board did not agree that was safe enough for students, a reversal of the district’s previous position. The board narrowly approved a resolution to only open virtually for at-home learning when school starts July 30. All in-person sports, extracurricular events and programs are also suspended.

The Washington Schools and Portage Township Schools appear and to be the first in Indiana to publicly announce they will not offer in-person classes.

IPS plans to let families decide to either attend school in person or use virtual learning from home.

Superintendent Aleeisa Johnson, during a virtual forum for parents, said she’s heard concerns and opinions from all sides about whether the district should offer in-person teaching.

“I want to acknowledge that our decisions won't be perfect. And certainly not everyone will be in agreement with every decision that we make, that is to be expected,” she said. “We're making really important decisions about our community and about our schools and about our students, families and staff.”

IPS is requiring nearly all staff and students in grades K-12 to wear masks at school and on buses. Parents who are able are asked to drive children to school. The district will provide one reusable mask to each child and staff member.  Students and staff are to stay three- to six-feet apart. As many as 80 touchless, filtered water fountains will also be added to school buildings.

The virtual learning plan includes district-level teachers providing daily video recordings. Teachers at the student’s home school will also check in daily with students learning from home.

IPS will spend $12 million to purchase devices for each student.

IPS parents are to decide by Wednesday if their student will attend school in person or follow a remote learning curriculum.

Johnson said children of color face the greatest impact because Black families are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to health and environmental conditions, and many working families are unable to offer support for remote learning.

“And it's something that weighs very heavily as we think about how we reopen schools in a safe way so that we can ensure, from an educational standpoint, we are not further burdening our communities who most need us,” she said.

Less than a quarter of IPS students are white. Around 70 percent of students receive free meals, based on their family income.

Johnson said the plans to reopen remains fluid and could change based on the spread of the coronavirus in Marion County and input from health officials.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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