Indiana state officials pressured to set school-shutdown benchmarks

Decisions about handling positive cases and creating protocols for when schools need to revert back to online-only learning now are left up to individual school districts.

Posted: Aug 8, 2020 11:20 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — With at least 31 positive cases of the coronavirus reported in Indiana schools since buildings began reopening in late July, district leaders, teachers and parents are pressuring state officials to identify benchmarks for what would require schools to go back online as confirmed cases of the virus increase.

Decisions about handling positive cases and creating protocols for when schools need to revert back to online-only learning now are left up to individual school districts.

Aside from a face coverings mandate for students in third grade and up, Indiana has no state requirements for if or how schools should open.

While the state issued recommendations for cleaning procedures and social distancing inside classrooms, it’s up to to local leaders to craft and follow their own back-to-school plans.

District leaders are now “adamant” that they want the state to identify when the spread of the virus has become too much for students to come into schools, state school superintendent Jennifer McCormick said.

Doing so means setting thresholds, she said. Each school should have a plan indicating that, when a certain percentage of people in the school or local population test positive for COVID-19, the school knows how to respond.

That might mean taking extra days off for deep cleaning or moving the school entirely online for a period of time.

In the Indianapolis area, the Marion County Health Department’s guidelines indicate that schools can fully reopen and have all students in their buildings at once as long as the positivity rate in the county remains below 5%.

When the county rate is 6% to 10%, middle schools and high schools must operate at half-capacity. A positivity rate of 11% to 12% forces middle and high schools to move completely online, and a rate of 13% or higher would cause all in-person instruction within schools to go on hold.

As schools continue to reopen, few districts have those numbers figured out yet.

In the Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation, where a student tested positive for the virus on the first day back to class, Superintendent Harold Olin said that the district east of Indianapolis does not have a specific threshold yet for when it would close a school, but that it would likely do so if absences reached 20%.

Still, making those decisions to close schools should be left up to medical experts, not the department of education, McCormick said.

That position puts her at odds with Gov. Eric Holcomb and Health Commissioner Kristina Box, who maintain there’s no reason for statewide benchmarks.

Holcomb has said that brick-and-mortar school re-openings are safe. On Wednesday, the Republican governor reemphasized “confidence” in local leaders to decide what’s best for their districts.

Box has said she “continue(s) to believe that our schools can safely reopen,” adding that having a case of COVID-19 at a school “should not be a cause for panic or a reason to close.” She’s so far denied that the state would mandate benchmarks for school closures.

But if schools don’t offer an-person option for students — even during the pandemic — they could see their budgets slashed.

Indiana’s Senate president, Republican Rod Bray, emphasized to school leaders in a letter sent Thursday that state law caps per-pupil funding for students who take at least half their classes virtually to 85% of basic tuition support.

That means school districts only offering online instruction to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 could lose 15% of their basic per student funding, equivalent to losing $855 in funding per student. Bray has not clarified whether the funding cut would apply to schools operating online for only part of the school year, or to schools that want to open but aren’t able to because of mandates from their county health departments.

Already, at least 31 districts plan to start their school years online, McCormick said. The state superintendent is calling on Holcomb to hold a special legislative session to “honor the promise he made to Hoosier children to provide sustainable funding to K-12 schools.”

Holcomb and other state leaders promised the opposite in June, maintaining that public schools would remain fully funded regardless of whether students are attending class in-person or online. In a statement to The Associated Press sent Friday evening, Holcomb said his position had not changed on school funding.

“As I’ve said before, I am committed to providing 100 percent funding to schools as they navigate the unprecedented challenges of opening the academic year during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Holcomb said. “They all need our support now more than ever.”

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 112626

Reported Deaths: 3520
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion20832759
Lake10292318
Elkhart6415109
St. Joseph6156102
Allen6029200
Hamilton4724109
Vanderburgh344530
Hendricks2673122
Monroe247436
Tippecanoe226913
Johnson2268123
Clark215056
Porter207845
Cass19329
Delaware188261
Vigo178123
Madison159575
LaPorte137739
Floyd131461
Howard128563
Kosciusko120217
Warrick119936
Bartholomew115357
Marshall98924
Dubois95418
Boone95146
Hancock91143
Grant89133
Noble89132
Henry77024
Wayne74414
Jackson7409
Morgan70038
Shelby66529
Daviess64427
Dearborn63228
LaGrange63111
Clinton59212
Harrison56024
Putnam53710
Lawrence50528
Montgomery50521
Knox5019
Gibson4854
White48114
DeKalb45611
Decatur45439
Miami4263
Fayette41813
Greene41835
Jasper3862
Steuben3707
Scott35610
Sullivan33012
Jennings31212
Posey3060
Franklin29925
Clay2935
Orange28524
Ripley2838
Carroll27013
Wabash2618
Washington2611
Starke2537
Whitley2526
Wells2482
Adams2453
Jefferson2443
Fulton2342
Huntington2223
Tipton21722
Spencer2153
Perry21413
Randolph2087
Jay1730
Newton17111
Owen1651
Martin1640
Rush1524
Pike1401
Vermillion1260
Fountain1182
Pulaski1151
Blackford1133
Crawford1030
Brown1023
Parke941
Benton880
Union770
Ohio767
Switzerland700
Warren391
Unassigned0225

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 145850

Reported Deaths: 4635
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin26242603
Cuyahoga17196644
Hamilton12850309
Montgomery7583152
Lucas7187358
Butler5727102
Summit5172249
Marion307247
Mahoning3002279
Warren294748
Stark2771168
Pickaway263444
Lorain227786
Delaware216620
Fairfield203850
Columbiana192180
Licking187562
Trumbull1852131
Clark175938
Wood173772
Clermont165520
Lake158649
Medina143939
Allen138869
Miami138049
Greene137632
Portage109466
Mercer107717
Tuscarawas91620
Erie91244
Wayne90866
Ross86123
Richland80819
Madison78712
Darke76839
Belmont71227
Geauga70547
Hancock67410
Ashtabula65148
Athens6292
Lawrence61618
Shelby5909
Auglaize5709
Putnam55823
Sandusky55520
Huron5337
Union5002
Scioto4746
Ottawa46630
Seneca45314
Preble42213
Muskingum3802
Holmes3777
Jefferson3284
Logan3013
Henry30012
Champaign2943
Perry2889
Defiance28710
Clinton28213
Brown2812
Knox28015
Morrow2522
Washington25123
Hardin25013
Fulton2371
Jackson2344
Coshocton23111
Crawford2276
Fayette2266
Ashland2244
Highland2203
Wyandot20212
Williams2013
Gallia18612
Meigs17210
Pike1670
Hocking1619
Guernsey1578
Carroll1517
Adams1234
Van Wert1143
Monroe10918
Paulding1050
Harrison622
Morgan470
Vinton453
Noble270
Unassigned00
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