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Are schools safe enough to reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

Posted at 9:08 PM, Jul 14, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS — Schools are releasing their reopening plans. The Washington Township school district announced it is postponing returning to the classroom, but many other schools plan to open with students in the building.

Families across central Indiana have many questions about how those schools plan to keep their kids safe.

It's being said both here in Marion County and by the state health department.

"We feel it's OK for schools to reopen based on the current data that we have today that we've been looking at for the last two weeks," Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Health Department, said.

"I firmly believe that the best thing for our students is to get them back into the classroom," Dr. Kris Box, Indiana State Health Commissioner, said.

READ MORE | Indiana's Considerations for Learning and Safe Schools: COVID-19 Health and Safety Re-entry Guidance

Officials want students back in the classroom. But the Indiana State Teachers Association, which represents educators across the state, said many are worried about what will happen if they go back in a few weeks.

"What resources are in place for staff, for students and for the community when a student or teacher dies?" Jennifer Smith-Margraf, vice president of ISTA, said. "Not if, when."

The many questions teachers and families have about returning — whether it's how long someone has to quarantine after a possible exposure, if masks are required 100 percent of the time, who gets notified of a positive case and what's the process like — are all decisions being left to local districts, according to the state health commissioner and state superintendent of public instruction when addressing back to school plans last month.

"We wish that we had clear guidance and clearer mandates from health departments or from the state health department," Smith-Margraf said.

Box laid out recommendations and guidelines for schools but hasn't mandated anything.

"The CDC guidance says that the schools may have to close for a period of two to five days, but this isn't written in stone," Box said. "It really depends on how well you have been able to cohort your students in your school system."

Many teachers fearing that schools will reopen, see a spike in cases and be forced to close weeks later.

"We really truly are asking a large group across the state to put themselves at very high risk and potentially pass away and leave their families in this situation," Smith-Margraf said.