Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) will reopen Aug. 3, administrators announced in a July 9 press conference.
IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the district has been working closely with the Marion County Public Health Department and following guidelines set by the Indiana State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure students can safely return to school.
IPS students and staff will all be required to wear either a face mask for a face shield, which will be provided by the school. Johnson said her team is working to determine at what times — such as lunchtime or recess —students will be permitted to take off their masks during the course of the school day.
The district also plans to follow social distancing guidelines at all times.
Families will have the option of resuming coursework virtually if they do not feel comfortable sending their student back to school amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson said, based on data the township collected through surveys with families, about one-third of parents in the district previously said they would opt for virtual learning if given the option.
For those who do end up resuming classes online, the district will provide equipment, as well as personal hotspots, if needed.
During the press conference, Johnson discussed new measures to reduce contact throughout the day, including new touchless water fountains — which follow the Indiana Department of Education mandate prohibiting the use of standard water fountains during the pandemic — as well as having teachers remove unnecessary furniture from their classrooms to prevent contact and make more space for social distancing.
Along with classroom alterations, school buses will look much different this school year, as well.
In an effort to keep students and drivers safe, Johnson said everyone on the bus, including the driver, must wear a mask at all times. Students will sit one child per seat and per row, and the district has reached out to parents to encourage anyone who can drop their child off at school to do so.
IPS is partnered with IndyGo — which recently moved to enforce the use of masks for anyone riding the bus — to help students get to school. Unlike IndyGo, however, Warren Morgan, chief academics officer for IPS, said the district is not able to install plastic shields for the drivers, but said drivers sit aren’t close to students.
Johnson declined to say whether or not IPS would return to virtual-only classes if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.
“We are being intentional about not having a blanket response that we would put into place,” Johnson said. “ … We’re putting protocols in place because we want to be sure that we’re able to contact trace.”
Johnson said certain measures the district is taking, including limiting time spent in the hallways, will hopefully help contain the spread if someone is positive for COVID-19, and said the likelihood of having positive cases in schools is likely.
In the event that someone tests positive, Johnson said IPS is working with the county health department to get onsite testing.
Scott Martin, deputy superintendent for operations, said common touch points, such as doorknobs, will be cleaned frequently throughout the school day. After school, classrooms, bathrooms and school buses will be deep cleaned daily.
Administrators say these measures to ensure the health and academic success of students – including technology, personal protective equipment and the touchless water fountains — has resulted in $15 million in additional expenses, and that number is growing.
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.