INDIANAPOLIS – Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said Thursday that 31 districts statewide will start the school year providing only virtual instruction.
The number has grown in recent weeks and is fluid, she said in a briefing with reporters statewide.
Some of those schools have set a specific amount of time for remote learning – such as the first semester – while others have made it flexible depending on the spread of the coronavirus in their communities.
“I trust those school districts are making the best decisions they can,” McCormick said. “Nothing is perfect in a pandemic.”
She also said the department created some online courses schools can use in Indiana studies, ethnic studies and civics. Some mini-lessons also have been made available that teachers can pull and put into their online lesson plans.
McCormick said screen time is expected with remote learning but also cautioned that sitting a kid in front of a screen for six hours a day is not a good plan. There needs to be a ratio between online instruction and practice work and projects.
She was unsure whether schools will be required to give annual accountability tests – it depends whether the federal government gives a waiver.
“I'm not sure how fair it is given the fluidity of the situation,” McCormick said about high stakes tests.
And she had harsh words for Congress and other officials pushing to withhold federal dollars from districts that don't open to in-person instruction. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Fort Wayne, has pushed this measure.
“Threats don't open schools,” she said. “I have no patience for that – that is a poor example of leadership.”
A number of questions were asked about whether the state education officials would set a threshold for when a school should shut down – rather by number of cases in staff and students or by a positivity rate in the county.
McCormick said she and her staff are not doctors and are listening to medical experts. A few county health departments have set their own guidelines but the state has not.
She also acknowledged that contact tracing is a struggle and is impacting schools.
When a person gets a positive test result, contact tracers alert all those the person was in close contact with to tell them to quarantine.
McCormick said parents are calling schools immediately and are very nervous about the legitimacy of the calls seeking private information about their child.