Even after Indiana schools reopen, it could take time to get back to normal, McCormick says

What could Indiana classrooms look like when school buildings reopen after the coronavirus health crisis?

It’s still unclear when school buildings will reopen, but Indiana’s top education official warned Tuesday that schools likely won’t immediately return to normal operations.

Schools will likely start back up with a hybrid experience of remote learning and in-person classes, to ensure students and staff remain healthy, said State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. There isn’t a state-mandated process for how to reopen, so plans will be left up to individual districts.

“Local superintendents are getting antsy,” McCormick said in a livestreamed address to the media. “They’re wanting to go back, but they’re also realistic in that they don’t want to go back at the risk of people’s health.”

The Indiana Department of Education is convening an advisory group, made up of school officials from rural, urban and suburban areas, to help schools prepare for re-opening after months of remote learning.

The group will put together guidance on factors schools should consider, such as how to restart transportation, provide supervision for younger students as parents return to work, and minimize growing gaps for students who don’t have access to a computer or the internet.

Reopening could mean bringing students back in waves, McCormick said. That could mean keeping high school students using online learning for longer while younger students go back into classrooms first. Or schools could offer classes in shifts, splitting up when students are in the building, but that option is “tricky and expensive,” she said.

School officials should also consider ordering potentially necessary cleaning supplies or masks now, McCormick said, rather than risk not being able to get what they need in time for buses or cafeterias.

For now, McCormick is advising schools to plan on summer school programs continuing online. All Indiana schools are closed for the rest of the school year under a statewide order, and Hoosiers are under a stay-at-home order through May 1. Gov. Eric Holcomb has indicated that parts of the state’s economy could slowly start to reopen next month.

“We want to be good partners in getting our economy and our businesses back going, but schools [are] a big piece of that wheel to turn,” McCormick said.