Indiana school reopening updates: Gary will open online only

A long, empty hallway in Gary Area Career Center.
A long, empty hallway in Gary Area Career Center (Emma Kate Fittes / Chalkbeat)

July 22

Gary Schools will open online only, citing safety

Gary Community Schools announced Wednesday it will start the school year with all online classes — a reversal that comes a week after districts in Lake County jointly announced all schools would open for in-person learning.

District leaders pointed to the high number of COVID-19 cases in the area, which recently began trending upward again. Lake County has been one of the hardest hit areas in the state, with more than 6,300 cases and 258 deaths so far, according to the Indiana State Department of Health

“After releasing our original plan of giving parents the choice between e-learning and in-classroom instruction, we soon learned that public opinion had drastically changed,” said Paige McNulty, the district’s emergency manager.

Last week, Washington Township in Indianapolis became the first district to U-turn, saying it will offer only virtual classes in the fall. On Monday, South Bend Community Schools also announced it would start the year virtually. A growing number of Indiana districts have pushed back their start dates, including two of the state’s largest: Evansville Vanderburgh and Indianapolis Public Schools. 

Gary will still start on Aug. 12. Like Washington Township, administrators in Gary don’t plan to remain online-only for the entire school year. But neither set an end date for remote learning. 

Gary struggled to provide remote learning for students last spring, initially resorting to passing out paper packets of work because a large portion of students lacked access to a computer or reliable internet. This year, all of the district’s 4,850 students will receive a Chromebook with an internet hotspot.

July 15

Warren Township may use hybrid virtual model, delay reopening

Warren Township Schools on the east side of Indianapolis would use a hybrid model where students in grades 6-12 attend in person on alternating days if the school board approves the reopening plan posted on the district website Wednesday.

The district plan also delays the first day of school until Aug. 6, a week later than previously planned. Warren, which educates nearly 12,000 students, is the first district in Indianapolis to announce plans for a staggered schedule, where students attend school some days and study remotely on other days. But the approach is similar to plans in other states, including in New York City. 

“I believe that is critically important to have our students back in our care and I know that the plan being put forth will not please everyone,” Superintendent Tim Hanson wrote in a letter announcing the plan.

All students except preschoolers would have the option to enroll in a full-time virtual program. If families opt for in-person instruction, students in grades 6-12 would be divided in to two groups that come to school in person on alternate days. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade would be able to attend school in person full time.

July 14

Indiana school reopening updates: Wayne Township delays reopening

The Wayne Township School Board voted Monday to delay the start of school until Aug. 12 to allow the district more time to prepare.

The Indianapolis district, which enrolls about 17,000 students, will give families the option to enroll children full time in person or to sign up for virtual education. Students were originally scheduled to return July 29. 

“Moving the date back will help us ensure that we have the things we need in place regarding both technology and PPE to give our students the best start possible to the school year,” district spokeswoman Mary Lang wrote in an email. 

The decision came hours after Washington Township became the first school system in Indianapolis to decide only to offer virtual instruction indefinitely. 

Both decisions point to growing anxiety in Marion County that school districts are not prepared to safely bring students back to classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic. Indianapolis districts typically begin school in late July or early August.

Most of the city’s districts, including Indianapolis Public Schools, are expected to return to school on schedule with the option to enroll full time in person. 

Marion County Public Health Department Director Virginia Caine said Monday that it is safe for Indianapolis schools to reopen, based on current coronavirus data. 

During a town hall livestreamed by IPS Monday night, Caine pointed to declines in the number of people testing positive for the virus and in the number dying. Indianapolis currently has a positivity rate of about 7%, Caine said. 

If Marion County starts to see “our numbers go in the wrong direction, that’s something that we would quickly, very rapidly be able to inform our schools in order to make it safe for our children,” Caine assured town hall viewers.

July 13

In a reversal, Washington Township Schools won’t offer in-person instruction

Washington Township will only offer virtual instruction when school begins this year, a shift in course for the Indianapolis district that had planned to open in-person and full-time with an online option.

The Washington Township School Board voted 3-2 Monday morning to indefinitely delay the return to classrooms as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the country and amid concern from teachers and parents about the safety of reopening.

Washington Township, which enrolls about 11,000 students who will return to school July 30, is the first Marion County district to announce plans to offer only virtual instruction and not reopen classrooms. Many Marion County districts are planning to offer full-time, in-person instruction in the fall in addition to virtual options, including the state’s largest district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which released a reopening plan Friday.

Read more: Washington Township Schools won’t offer in-person instruction in a reversal

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