Indianapolis students in 6th grade and above must wear face masks

Indianapolis teachers, school staff, and students in sixth grade and above will be required to wear face masks when they return to classrooms this year, according to guidance from the Marion County Public Health Department released Thursday.

Children in fifth grade and below are not required to wear masks or coverings under the recommendations. Other exceptions include students and staff with health conditions that make wearing a mask a risk and students who cannot remove a mask on their own. The guidance says that a face shield may be an appropriate alternative for teachers in pre-K through fifth grade if a mask is “determined to impede a student’s learning.”

Staff and students may remove masks when necessary, such as to eat or drink.

Although face masks are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, they are not required in Indiana. Masks will be required in public spaces in Indianapolis beginning July 9, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced Thursday.

The guidance offers new insight into what schools could look like as buildings reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. Indianapolis schools typically begin in late July or early August.

In addition to requiring masks, the guidelines also recommend keeping students 3 to 6 feet apart and teachers 6 feet from students; eliminating “pod” or group table seating and facing students’ desks in the same direction; moving classes outside if possible; and grouping students in cohorts as much as possible.

In a letter posted Thursday, the superintendents of Marion County’s 11 public school districts said that they would provide additional, district-specific guidance to families.

“These guidelines are the minimum standards and therefore, individual school corporations may develop procedures that are greater than, but not lesser than, these guidelines,” the letter said.

More than 150,000 students in Indianapolis public schools moved to remote learning in March due to the coronavirus. Districts and charter schools announced in June they would offer full-time, in-person instruction to any student who wished to attend or online learning for families who chose to keep their children home.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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