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New guidelines set for Marion County schools

Due to an increase in positive cases in Indianapolis and an increase in those cases in people under 40, a new public health order will go into effect on Aug. 6.

INDIANAPOLIS — The unexpected increase of new COVID-19 cases in Indianapolis, prompted the Marion County Public Health department to issue a public health order mandating e-Learning at most public and private middle and high schools.

Schools preparing to reopen for the new school year, for the most part, decided for themselves how best to keep their students and staff safe. Pages of new rules from the health department are requiring some schools to make significant changes.

Nearly 10 percent of Indianapolis COVID-19 tests are coming back positive.

The order requires middle and high schools with more than 400 students to implement full time E-Learning or a hybrid system. With the hybrid system, kids come to class two days a week and learn from home the other three days. On any given day, only half the students will be in the school building.

Schools with fewer than 400 students have to meet other social distancing requirements or implement e-Learning as well.

If the positivity rate increases, e-Learning would be expanded to five days a week and include elementary schools. The public health order mandates face masks for everyone 8 or older.

High risk teachers or students will be allowed to opt out of in person learning. The order also stipulates rules for social distancing in classrooms, hallways and buses. Most schools have already adopted them.

The health department is promising schools some much needed help. It will provide emergency testing for students and staff with results promised within 48 hours. There will be a dedicated team of contact tracers. Both efforts together should help schools identify those infected sooner, isolate others who might be infected, and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Schools are being warned to stay flexible and ready to change. The community is at war with a viral enemy. When the battlefield change so must the tactics.

“My hope is that throughout this school year, students keep in mind that they will help drive decisions around whether they can be in the classroom, play sports, or participate in band or choir practice,” said Mayor Joe Hogsett. “Wearing a mask, following the social distancing procedures set by their school, and being thoughtful with their actions outside of the classroom will help prevent future outbreaks in our schools, families, and throughout our community.”

The new public health order will go into effect on Aug. 6. Here is a list of what it includes:

  • Middle and high schools with fewer than 400 students may resume in-person classes if 6-foot social distancing can be achieved in classrooms, otherwise must be operated online or in a hybrid model.
  • Middle and high schools with more than 400 students must be operated virtually or in a hybrid model.
  • K-5 schools may resume in-person classes.
  • Schools with K-5 and above in a single building that can maintain 6-foot distancing may resume in-person, otherwise grades 6 or higher must remain online or move to a hybrid model.
  • Masks must be worn by students in grades 3 and above at all times, except when eating and drinking. Students ages 3 and older must wear masks when indoors or not socially-distanced.
  • Schools conducting all in-person or hybrid classes must implement social distancing procedures, such as staggering passing periods, implementing permanent seating charts in classrooms, and organizing students in classroom cohorts.
  • Athletic teams are asked to follow current IHSAA guidelines, with further guidance expected in the coming weeks.