Thursday, September 24th, 2020

Guidance for going back to school

Posted: Friday, June 12, 2020

Source: State of Indiana

Face masks, playground closures and alternating days of instruction for different groups of students are among measures schools should consider as they build out plans to reopen school buildings in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new guidance released by the Indiana Department of Education. The guidance, released in a 38-page document Friday takes a series of recommendations to schools but does not mandate any policy changes. Instead, it details a number of measures for school leaders to consider, while leaving final decisions up to the schools. For full policy review (click here).

For instance, the document points to guidance from the CDC that recommends the wearing of face coverings for students and teachers. The state does not go so far as to require it, though, putting the onus on schools to make these decisions – and shoulder the burden of any fallout from families, which may be split on some policy decisions.

The document is designed to help school leaders think through considerations like cleaning protocols, social distancing, transportation and what to do if a case of the novel coronavirus is connected to a school.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has said that he’s convinced that the state’s schools will be able to reopen safely, but there won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

Recommended, but not required:

The document gives guidance on several key issues that have weighed on parents’ minds and split public opinion nationwide. One of those is the wearing of masks or other face coverings. The state is recommending that requirements be “consistent with state and local guidelines.”

“It may be necessary for schools to provide masks,” the document advises. It recommends masks for all employees and students, but it will be up to local districts to implement such a policy.

The guidance recommends the closure of communal spaces, like cafeterias and playgrounds, eliminating large group gatherings like field trips and assemblies, moving classes outdoors when possible and rearranging desks to increase space between students.

How to implement social distancing in a school setting has been one of the biggest challenges for schools to solve. The education department makes several suggestions including:

- Schedule specified groups of students to attend in-person school on alternate days or half days to minimize the number of students in the building. Those students not attending in-person should be expected to engage in remote/continuous learning.

- Consider year-round schooling with alternating breaks to minimize the numbers of students in the building at any time.

- Provide in-person instruction to elementary students and increase distance learning opportunities for secondary grade levels.

- Offer both in-person and remote instruction.

Other recommendations to improve health and safety include:

- Each school should have a room or space separate from the nurse’s clinic where students or employees who are feeling ill are evaluated or wait for pick up.

- Water fountains should not be utilized in schools until further notice.

- Meals should be eaten in classrooms, rather than communal spaces.

- Materials and devices should not be shared; instead schools should stock enough for all students to have their own supplies.

- Stagger drop-off and pick-up times and any classroom changes during the school day.

- Eliminate or restrict school and classroom visitors, including families.

- Buses should be cleaned more often and students should be assigned seats, socially distanced when possible.

While schools were waiting for guidance, they were also coming up with a variety of plans for how they could reopen. Districts have considered everything from having two different “shifts” of students to reduce the number of people in a building at any one time, to a hybrid model with students coming into the building and receive in-person instruction only every other day.

Many have already said they’ll have an online option available in the fall for students and families who cannot return or do not feel comfortable doing so. Schools statewide are schedule to reopen in late July and early August.