INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Democratic nominee for Indiana governor called Tuesday for more widespread mask use in schools and for school leaders to turn more toward online coursework rather than having students return to classrooms in the coming weeks.
Woody Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, said because of rising coronavirus cases and deaths in the state he had a “strong desire … that we get masks in the schools in every circumstance.”
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is seeking a second term in the November election, said last week he would not issue a statewide mask-wearing mandate or direct school districts on whether they should have children return to classrooms for the start of new school years.
Myers criticized Holcomb and the Trump administration for a lack of guidance on how schools can reopen safely and for pushing them to have students return.
Several school districts in the Indianapolis area have either delayed the starts of their academic years or decided to open the year with online classes. The South Bend schools are planning for virtual lessons for the first weeks of the school years, while the Fort Wayne district plans to have middle and high school students in classrooms only half time.
Myers argued that smaller class sizes were necessary to allow enough distancing during school days.
“The highest risk is for full-size, in-person classes where students cannot properly follow social distancing guidelines,” Myers said.
Holcomb’s campaign pointed to a $61 million grant program he announced last month to bolster virtual learning and plans to distribute face masks and hand sanitizer to schools.
“Governor Holcomb is working to provide resources and flexibility to allow teachers and students to return to school in the safest way possible,” campaign spokeswoman Holly Lawson said. “This collaboration empowers local schools boards and the state and local health departments to craft the best local approach.”
Holcomb said last week he would consider coronavirus safety requests from the Indiana State Teachers Association, including for a statewide school face mask requirement.
Holcomb has delayed for at least a month steps to further lift Indiana’s current limits on crowd sizes for restaurants, bars and public events as the state started seeing infections grow again recently in a reversal of steady declines seen since April.
Myers said he believed school districts should “lean on virtual education as their first option” and worried about the high number of new cases emerging in many other states.
“We’ve got to be sure that we’re flexible, because I am very afraid, given the numbers that I’m seeing today, that Indiana is going to move the direction of Arizona, California, Florida and Texas,” he said.