Marion County health officials cap middle, high school capacity at 50%

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Indianapolis middle and high school buildings may operate at no more than 50% capacity in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, under a public health order announced Thursday by the Marion County Health Department.

Elementary schools, however, will be able to fully reopen for all students to return to classrooms five days a week. The public health order also calls for all students in third grade and above to wear masks, permanent seating charts, and staggered passing periods. Marion County Public Health Department Director Virginia Caine also recommended that high-risk teachers and students be allowed to opt out of in-person instruction.

Many schools around the country are prioritizing bringing elementary school students back to classrooms because they appear to be less likely to become infected or spread the virus. Middle and high schools will likely have to use a hybrid model or offer virtual learning to meet the restrictions.

The order is based on new metrics from the health department that specify what level of school reopening is considered safe based on the COVID-19 test positivity rate in the community. Marion County had a seven-day average positivity rate of 9.2% as of Sunday. It is considered “yellow” under the new system, the first level triggering restrictions on schools.

Under the four-level system, which ranges between green, yellow, orange and red, the positivity rate must drop below 5% for schools to operate with no restrictions on in-person learning. If the county reaches a positivity rate of 13% or higher, schools should not offer in-person instruction.

Restrictions will remain in place for at least two weeks.

“Our hope is that these benchmarks will give school boards, superintendents, principals, other school leaders, the tools necessary to make decisions about how to best serve their students based on current and known public health trends,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett at a press briefing.

Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Marion County Health Department reopening guidelines for schools.

The new guidance comes after several Marion County districts have already pushed back the start of school or opted to begin the year virtually because of health concerns. An order issued last week delayed building reopenings until Aug. 5. Indianapolis Public Schools announced plans Wednesday to begin the year entirely virtually.

In a sign that many schools are being more cautious than the county requires, IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson also proposed guidelines for determining when it would be safe to return to classrooms. Johnson said that the district would look for the community to go for 14 days with an average positivity rate of 5% or less before returning in-person.

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

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5 thoughts on “Marion County health officials cap middle, high school capacity at 50%

  1. Wow…Egos galore from all benches….OPEN UP ALL SCHOOLS and protect those most vulnerable…Teachers who elect not to abide by their contracts to work…TERMINATE …..This is a ridiculous show of tail wagging the dog and if Charter schools open then let parents enroll the students and state can redirect the funds from public school to Charter applicable to the per student dollar amount…

    1. really Jim? how do you protect the most vulnerable if all the kids are in school going home to older parents? secondly, have you been in an elementary school since you attended one as the vast majority of teachers are 50+.

      take a deep breath and realize that we didn’t take the steps necessary to return to normal and until we do so we should take precaution not act as cowboys.

  2. Look up Warren Township’s hybrid plan. This takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and planning from administration and planning. It is not like this was a surprise. This plan requires hard work.

  3. The title of this article is not correct. Everyone needs to read the article. Only Middle and High Schools with more than 400 students are required to use a hybrid calendar or do elearning. Middle schools with less 400 students or that are K-8 can do in person 5 days a week if they can achieve social distancing of 6 feet. This makes no sense because all of these students have been going to basketball, tennis, volleyball and overnight camps all summer without incident. This Fall after they leave school they will be socializing and playing sports together. This not a rational approach and is only going to harm the education and mental well being of the students.