Indiana state superintendent says schools can safely reopen

(Photo supplied/Yorktown Community Schools)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP): Indiana’s top education official said Thursday that she thinks schools can safely reopen despite mounting reports of students and staffers testing positive for the coronavirus within days of returning to the classroom in some districts.

Jennifer McCormick, the state’s school superintendent, said that she thinks it’s best for medical experts to determine if, when, or how schools should reopen.

“Based on what I have been told, we are good to go — with provisions,” she said during a webinar.

The Indiana Department of Education is also leaving it up to health officials to set thresholds for coronavirus positivity rates that would require a school to close, McCormick said. She and other state officials have resisted calls to provide more guidance on how schools should reopen and when they should close down again in the event of an outbreak.

McCormick said the state’s reopening recommendations released in June were an attempt to get information out early and that her office is “continuously” working with local districts to craft safe back-to-school plans.

So far, 31 Indiana school districts have told the IDOE that they’re currently relying only on virtual instruction. Of the schools in the state that have resumed in-person instruction, at least a dozen have reported students or teachers testing positive for the coronavirus since the school year started.

The state health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box, said Wednesday that she thinks it’s safe for schools to reopen during the pandemic and that having a positive case of the virus in a school “should not be a cause for panic or a reason to close.”

When a student tests positive for COVID-19, “we are at the mercy of families calling the school,” McCormick said. Currently, it’s possible for a child who tests positive to attend school without the district being aware, although local health departments that are made aware of those cases are communicating such with local school leaders to ensure proper contact tracing, she said.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said Wednesday that when it comes to transparency about positive coronavirus cases within schools, she supports releasing data, but wouldn’t promise to release that information due to concerns about violating privacy laws.

Fort Wayne Community Schools resumes classes on August 13th.

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