Prompted by an end to state takeovers and other consequences for low performance, Indiana schools likely will also see a change in how the state measures their success.
Schools serving high-poverty students, among the campuses hardest hit by COVID-19, will receive the most per student in federal relief.
If schools choose to reopen knowing the potential health risk, it raises an important question: How liable are school districts if a student or teacher contracts COVID-19?
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick addressed the media Thursday by video to answer some of the biggest questions about schools reopening.
The union—which statewide represents around 4,500 educators and school support staff—made its call for schools to open only if coronavirus cases are under control and schools have the needed safeguards.
The shift indicates a wariness among school district leaders as COVID-19 cases statewide rise and both parents and teachers push back against bringing students into classrooms.
With no statewide requirement in Indiana, districts are left to make the decision, then potentially write a policy and secure enough masks to outfit students and teachers.
The importance of having a medical professional on site has been heightened as districts work through how to reopen schools safely during the ongoing pandemic.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and state lawmakers have agreed to move forward with the current budget, he said during a scheduled video conference. That includes maintaining the planned $183 million increase in school funding.
Dr. Kristina Box on Tuesday clarified the state’s guidelines for reopening schools, which some school leaders have criticized for putting too much responsibility on individual districts.
Among the top and most costly challenges for districts will be restructuring operations to adhere to social-distancing protocols, transporting students, and hiring the additional staff to ramp up cleaning efforts.
State leaders say Indiana schools can reopen safely in the fall if they screen students and staff, create individual health plans, and maintain social distancing, according to newly released re-entry guidelines.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s application to the U.S. Department of Education provides a look at how he will spend federal education money that was set aside for state leaders to distribute how they choose.
While other states have voiced their opposition, Indiana appears to be among the first to formally reject the idea.
The decision is expected to be made around July 4 at the earliest, Gov. Eric Holcomb said— about a month before many Indiana districts typically return.
There are growing worries among school officials that fewer students will return this fall. And in a state where funding is doled out per student, a drop in enrollment would mean an immediate financial hit to schools.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has already closed all school buildings through the end of the academic year, but has not said what the coronavirus will mean for students over the summer or next fall.
Around the state, school finance experts are unsure what the coronavirus will mean for new property tax referendums to fund local schools. Fourteen districts are expected to put a referendum on the ballot in the primary.
Without a comprehensive statewide effort to get all students online during the coronavirus crisis, districts have largely been tasked with filling the gaps when it comes to computers and home internet access.
Many districts have opted to move to do three-day weeks to finish out the year, in part to give teachers time to reach out to students and prepare online lessons or paper packets.