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Indianapolis officials wait to green-light schools reopening

A school bus outside Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School, an elementary school in Indianapolis, Indiana. —April, 2019— Photo by Alan Petersime/Chalkbeat
A school bus outside Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School.
Alan Petersime/Chalkbeat

While Indiana officials have given approval for schools across the state to return this fall, Marion County officials are delaying a decision about Indianapolis schools until they better know how the city’s gradual reopening has affected the spread of COVID-19.

State officials announced last week that school buildings will be allowed to reopen after July 1, but they left the final decision to districts and local health departments. The pandemic has struck Indianapolis particularly severely compared with the rest of Indiana, and the city has also been slower to reopen other institutions, such as restaurants and shopping.

At a media briefing Thursday, Marion County Public Health Department Director Virginia Caine said she is “very optimistic” that schools will be able to reopen, and she aims to have a definitive answer by July 15.

Indianapolis Public Schools, the state’s largest district, is scheduled to return Aug. 3.

The city is expected to move into Stage 4 of its reopening plan next Friday, which allows movie theaters, bowling alleys, and museums to reopen at 50% capacity. Restaurants, retail stores, and indoor religious services may increase capacity.

City health officials have been meeting regularly with district superintendents and the archdiocese, which oversees most of the county’s Catholic schools, Caine said. She also aims to meet with other private schools and charter schools before reopening.

Marion County schools are planning how they will address safety when they reopen. Indianapolis Public Schools officials said last month that they have several steps they will take, including offering a remote learning option and social distancing in schools. But some school leaders have been frustrated that the state is not providing more guidance on student health.

Mayor Joe Hogsett said that public school superintendents are “understandably anxious” for guidance on reopening.

“There’s just a lot of planning that needs to be done before opening day comes,” Hogsett said. Nonetheless, “we’re going to follow the data and obviously be as careful as is predictably and reasonably possible.”

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