State Superintendent provides update on how pandemic has impacted education in Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS – “We kept our focus on kids,” said Jennifer McCormick, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, “That’s why we are here and that’s what we will continue to do.”

McCormick and the Indiana Department of Education hosted a media briefing to update how the pandemic has changed education in Indiana. She addressed everything from contact tracing, social distancing, and screen time. Schools still face many challenges and could be for quite some time.

“As COVID is fluid, so is that guidance,” McCormick added.

At the beginning of figuring out how the fall semester would look for Indiana school, only 17 school districts told the Indiana Department of Education they would be 100 percent virtual this fall – now we’re up 31.

Superintendent McCormick stressed that educators are not medical professionals, but they are trying to their best to get back on track.

Educators have told McCormick it’s taking a lot to enforce masks in classrooms. Many students are having to be reminded on how to wear one, properly.

Schools are following guidance from the CDC and multiple medical professionals to keep kids socially distant when back inside school facilities.

“Schools let me tell you are trying their hardest to get as much distance as possible, so the three-feet is the minimum but I have visited schools prior to them starting to see the set-ups, I have talked to many of them on the phone – they are trying their hardest to get at least a minimum of three-feet if not more,” explained McCormick, “It is difficult when you are dealing with a 5-year-old, it is difficult when you’re dealing with a 15-year-old.”

There have already been multiple COVID-19 cases reported in students and staff and with each case officials have tried to contact trace. However, McCormick explains there have been challenges.

“Contact tracing is getting a lot of noise in our department,” she said, “If we have one positive, I’ve heard schools call and say you know, with that one positive we’ve had 48 kids to track down. That’s a lot. On top of the testing, on top of the contact tracing, those pieces that are tricky really at no fault of really anyone, it’s just the nature of it. So, when people think it’s easy, it’s not.”

McCormick’s heard that parents are worried about giving out too much information to a contact tracer.

She says schools need to work closely with the health department to figure out a solution for this.

As for state testing and assessments, that highlights another challenge that the Indiana Department of Education is working through. She said it’s very expensive to have one-on-one test proctor. Virtual schools in Indiana in the past have had to find a site for students to take their test, but that could be difficult during the pandemic.

“One, sometimes it’s not allowed, but two – how does that look to try to get those kids on site?” questioned McCormick, “We know and schools know we don’t have a lot of wait time here for fall, because if I’m giving ISTEP 10, which is a graduation requirement in the fall and that’s when my students are going to take it because I’m going to have a lot of early grads this year, because we’re hearing that as well,  December grads. What happens with that?”

McCormick says, anything they can get waived this year will be extremely important. Her team is working to figure out what this will look like and if these assessments will impact kids moving forward.

Due to the pandemic, McCormick and her team have heard from teacher who are anxious about reopening, but others are excited to get back in the classroom. She said, unfortunately, the hesitation of educators has led to an uptick in teachers retiring this year.

As some students continue with e-learning as we head into the Fall semester, McCormick did make this clear, “We have made it clear that setting a kid in front of a computer for six hours continually is not a good idea.”

McCormick also brought up in-person voting concerns and having polling locations at schools. McCormick says the IDOE supports absentee voting as schools already have enough to worry about rather than being the site for more than 300 voting locations. She said there would have to be strict monitoring of people coming in and out of the facilities, along with detailed cleaning. She’s asking officials to please consider finding another option.

The Indiana State Teachers Association is calling on the state government to do more to keep educators and students safe as Indiana continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

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