State Health Department announces plans for reopening schools

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Students heading back to school this fall should be prepared to bring a mask along with their bagged lunch. Masks will be mandatory this semester.

“There is no more important task than returning students safely to school for instruction,” said Governor Eric Holcomb in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

All students third grade and above will be required to wear masks in their classrooms, however, there are exceptions for strenuous activity, or if all students can be three to six feet apart. All teachers and staff will be required to wear masks unless they are instructing from six feet away from their students.

“Regardless of age, all students should wear a face covering on a school bus,” explained Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, Secretary of the Indiana Family Social Services Administration.

State Health Officials are asking school districts to spread out desks, and face them all in one direction. They are also telling school officials that they should adjust scheduling to promote social distancing. For younger students, this means placing them in pods of students who move throughout the day together. Should a student test positive, State Health officials are asking close contacts to quarantine for 14 days.

“We will identify who spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of the person, 48 hours prior to the symptoms’ onset,” detailed Dr. Lindsay Weaver during the press conference, “Isolate and send home any person who develops symptoms. A threshold to close a pod is one case, and to close a classroom is two.”

So far, Governor Holcomb has said there is no threshold or mandate for how many cases will determine if a school should. He will also not mandate a statewide start date. Instead, he will leave it up to local districts.

“Some school districts have decided to return 100% virtual, and I respect that decision, and I hope it’s only temporary. I want school districts to be very mindful of what that decision means holistically for the family. Some families may not have child care, or another location for their child to go to have a good learning environment,” explained Governor Holcomb.

Noblesville Schools will allow elementary school students to return every day if they choose, while middle and high school students may return to class on alternating days with virtual learning in between.

“The structure of the typical middle school and high school day, it doesn’t really allow to keep students in cohort groups for contact tracing,” said Noblesville Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer.

“Elementary students are going to remain in their rooms, and the specials teachers will rotate to minimize exposure,” added Jen Townsend Director of Learning at Noblesville Schools.

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