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Some Indiana schools move to remote learning due to staff limitations related to COVID-19

Indiana's COVID-19 surge is causing multiple school districts to temporarily move to remote learning while dealing with staffing shortages.

INDIANAPOLIS — Last week, the Indiana Department of Health reported a record number of COVID-19 cases among teachers and staff: 497 teacher and 655 staff cases last Monday through Friday. That doesn't include Indianapolis Public Schools, which has its own dashboard, and many schools that do not report cases to the state.

IPS is one of the districts having problems staffing classrooms right now. But the district is far from alone. 

Several superintendents have been reluctantly forced into remote learning for a couple days. They hope to take advantage of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend to bring students back to the classroom next week.

The tone sounded between class periods at one of the largest high schools in the state Wednesday at noon. But the cafeteria sat empty, and no students spilled into the hallways at Ben Davis High School. Students are learning remotely the rest of the week due to staffing limitations.

Credit: WTHR/Rich Nye
Hallways at Ben Davis High School were empty on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022 as students did e-learning with staffing shortages due to COVID-19.

The few teachers in the building are providing online assignments.

"They are pivoting, shifting — anything that you want to utilize to describe what's happening in our classrooms," said Dr. Jeff Butts, superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, which includes Ben Davis High School. "But they're tired. They are troopers. They're doing amazing work each and every day to make sure that they're adjusting and adapting."

With no in-person classes Thursday or Friday, and then the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, that gives Ben Davis High School students and staff five days outside the building, and also covers the COVID-19 quarantine period.

RELATED: IPS moves middle and high schools to remote learning due to staffing issues

"We know that individuals are having a hard time scheduling a test and that it takes three to five days right now to get those test results back," Butts said. "So, by the time we get through that, whether or not they had a positive for COVID, they reached that isolation period and quarantine time to come back to work."

Greenfield-Central High School is on the same remote learning schedule to deal with a staff shortage. In addition, 54 high school students reported testing positive for COVID-19 in a matter of days this week. Last semester, the highest number of cases in any single week was 39. 

"Our students are best equipped in high school for a virtual environment," said Greenfield-Central Schools Superintendent Dr. Harold Olin. "It was a way for us to be able to shift some staff — that's food services, custodians, to cover some things in other buildings. So, it's really isolated to the high school."

A quick return to in-person classes remains the priority.

"You just roll with it," Olin said. "You hope that it's short-term. For us, we're talking about two days of instruction. Our teachers can make that adjustment. If that means postponing an assessment, you postpone it for a couple of days. E-learning is not the same. We don't want our kids having time on a screen for six hours in the day, so we do shorten that day just a little bit."

IPS also blames staffing shortages for a move to remote learning at high schools and standalone middle schools. With no school Monday or Tuesday, that provides a six-day window for the district to recover from staff illnesses.

Anderson Community Schools went to e-learning Thursday and Friday at all the schools in the district due to COVID-19 related bus driver and staff absences.

Heritage Christian School will be closed Friday due to staffing issues. That is a day-off with no e-learning.

RELATED: Pike Township Schools to continue remote learning through Jan. 12

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