NewsEducation / July 13, 2020

Washington Township Schools Won't Reopen Buildings, Virtual Classes Only Due To COVID-19

Washington Township Schools enrolls around 11,100 students in grades K-12 in 13 schools, including more than 3,700 students at North Central High School. - Sesamehoneytart/CC-BY-SA-4.0

Washington Township Schools enrolls around 11,100 students in grades K-12 in 13 schools, including more than 3,700 students at North Central High School.

Sesamehoneytart/CC-BY-SA-4.0

Washington Township Schools will only open virtually for at-home learning when school starts July 30. Previously, the district said it intended to offer full-time in-class instruction or the option for remote classes.

The Washington Township School Board approved a resolution Monday morning in a 3-2 vote at a special meeting, citing ongoing infections and deaths from the coronavirus and feedback from parents and staff.

In a statement, the board members said it must always think of students first, including Black families, who health officials say, are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“While we do so today, we have also considered what in our judgment is in the best interest of our students’ families and of our dedicated faculty, staff, and administration and their families,” board members said in a statement.

All in-person sports, extracurricular events and programs are also suspended. 

Details on the remote learning plan will be released soon, according to the district. The board said a previously approved school reopening plan would be used when students returned to school buildings. There is no timeline for when buildings will reopen.

Washington Township Schools enrolls around 11,100 students in grades K-12 at 13 schools. It is one of 11 public school districts in Marion County. 

District superintendents jointly announced last month they would reopen classrooms and offer the option for on-line learning. They also agreed to follow recommendations for in-class teaching from the Marion County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention if they opened their school buildings.

Today, Washington Township board members said they were in a difficult position to make a decision on whether to reopen classrooms because of the “limited specific guidance” from Gov. Eric Holcomb, Mayor Joe Hogsett and public health officials.

The board said it weighed the concerns of families for opening classroom instruction, and not offering in-person teaching.

“Experts caution that students themselves may become infected and that even if they do not become seriously ill they may pass the virus to adults with whom they reside, including those who are immunocompromised or are vulnerable for other reasons,” the board said in a statement. “We acknowledge in this regard that our African American families are particularly at risk.”

Black residents of Marion County tested positive for COVID-19 at twice the rate of whites, according to SAVI, a research organization from the Polis Center at IUPUI.

As WFYI's Side Effects reported recently, health experts say people of color are not genetically more likely to contract COVID-19 but they do face conditions that increase their exposure, such as essential jobs and denser neighborhoods. They also are more likely to suffer from pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, that can cause complications with COVID-19.

The reopening of school buildings for the 2020-21 school year has become a political fight at the federal level.

President Donald Trump threatened to withhold funding from the schools if they did not reopen this fall, even though he has little power to do so. Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who represents Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District, introduced a bill that would block federal funding for schools and colleges if they don’t offer classroom teaching by this fall.

Both say the reopening of school buildings is essential for the economy to recover.

Washington Schools decision to go virtual was supported by Indianapolis City-County Councillor Ali Brown.

"I am hopeful that other schools will follow suit,” Brown said. “These choices are very hard for schools and parents, but we cannot allow our teachers and children become sacrifices to the economy.”

Indianapolis Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, plans to reopen its school buildings for classes early next month.

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

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