On track for schools to open

From north to south, east to west and everywhere in between, Indiana communities are essentially at different places when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, although the Indiana Department of Education released plans on Friday for schools to reopen, districts have a level of discretion based on the individual situation.

The State DOE basically released guidance to prepare schools for the pandemic environment. “The conditions, current medical landscape, and growing body of knowledge surrounding COVID-19 continue to evolve. This reality presents challenges to planning, preparing, and guiding school operations.”

As a result, school corporations were told to expect document revisions as the situation progresses. ​The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) will continue to coordinate with the Governor’s Office, the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), and the Indiana General Assembly (IGA) to provide guidance. Districts and schools are encouraged to communicate with local authorities and always adhere to the most recent and restrictive recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The overview stated: “In light of this new pandemic environment, schools must understand two key factors: 1) the school’s ability to maintain a safe and healthy school environment, and 2) the prevalence of COVID-19 in their community. Schools will need to constantly evaluate these two key factors as schools and communities will most likely fluctuate between the various phases of disease transmission over the coming months. ​Per Governor Holcomb’s executive order, Indiana schools are allowed to reopen on July 1.​ Administrators should work with their local health departments to assess the schools ability to implement the necessary health and safety measures required to prevent the spread of disease. Schools are encouraged to review the CDC’s Decision Tree​, the ​CDC Considerations for Schools and the ​CDC’s Community Mitigation Strategies​ in order to determine their preparedness for reopening.”

Due to capacity and resource limitations, not all districts and schools will be able to address or implement all the considerations listed in the document. Districts and schools are advised to use it as a guide and consult with local health departments to secure contact information for their public health nurse or local health officer. In addition, relevant stakeholders and local legal counsel should be consulted to determine which considerations are feasible and the most appropriate way to proceed.

The document contains info from how to talk to students about fears and concerns, as well as their safety, and what sorts of activities should be included in the first days of school.

Schools are advised to continued mental health services and build resiliency.

Other items addressed in the “Indiana DOE 2020-21 COVID-19 re-entry considerations” document include:

• Community and trust building

• Classroom meetings to set clear expectations

• Guidance for adults facilitating these classroom meetings

• Staff well-being

Conclusion addressed to educators

“Students will return to school having a range of experiences throughout the pandemic. We must acknowledge that not all students are coming back with the same feelings and emotions. Some had access to technology: others did not. Some had a great experience learning with family; others did not. Some are living in families that are struggling financially; and others do not. We will continue to have children who may be struggling because of their families situation. Just realize each is coming back with various issues and coping mechanisms.

“It is also important for school leaders to acknowledge that staff coming back to the building have and will continue to experience a wide range of traumatic experiences themselves. Whether that be the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, or fear of the risk that returning to school may pose on the health of themselves and their families. Having dedicated and consistent support for both students and staff will be a critical component of returning to school.”

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