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WHITELAND, Ind. — Starting Wednesday, schools across Indiana will begin operating under new COVID-19 guidelines and protocols.

Last week, the Indiana Department of Health announced changes in COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools and childcare programs, as well as a reduction of the state’s COVID response operations.

“I think the biggest difference is the contact-tracing requirements,” said Clark-Pleasant Community Schools’ Superintendent, Patrick Spray.

According to the new state guidance:

  •     schools are no longer required to do contact tracing or report positive cases to the state.
  •    students who are considered close contacts do not need to quarantine if they have been exposed.
  •     students who test positive should still isolate for at least 5 days (returning on day 6 if fever-free for 24hrs).

“Being able to keep those [healthy] students in the classroom is what we’ve been trying to be all about the entire time during COVID,” said Spray. “And so I think this new guidance will allow us to do that.”

Spray said keeping track of every seating chart, in every classroom, on every bus, and in every lunchroom was a tall order that his staff handled well.

“I think that our public schools – and our schools overall – carried the largest burden during this pandemic with regards to communicating to families. With regards to kind of taking the heat. With regards to some of the decisions we’ve had to make – be that masks or quarantines, etc. So yeah, it is somewhat of a relief that hopefully we’re seeing the end of this pandemic and approaching it more like an endemic,” said Spray.

At Clark-Pleasant Schools, district officials said they will still track attendance rates internally and if COVID positive cases are reported to the district, they will keep track of those as well.

“We’ll work with our county health officials and lean on them to give us guidance on when we need to take appropriate actions if there happens to be a cluster that would pop up,” said Spray.

Still, Spray admits the district and local health officials have not set an exact threshold for what would be considered a “cluster of cases.”

At Clark-Pleasant Schools masks will also now be optional.

“Certainly, if students and families choose to continue to wear masks to school, we’ll support that in any way we can. We’ll have those masks available,” said Spray.

“So it’s kind of the shared responsibility. We all have to do our part to protect everyone else,” said Thomas Duszynski, Director of Epidemiology Education at the Richard M Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI.

Experts at the Fairbanks School of Public Health said this latest change in guidance is all about personal responsibility. Duszynski said he strongly encourages parents to keeps kids at home when they are sick.

“Well, it’s like any other disease, right? You don’t want to send your child to school if they have a fever or nausea, vomiting those kinds of things and you want we want them to be symptom free for at least 24 hours and it’s no different for COVID,” said Duszynski.