Indiana K-12 schools will not reopen this academic year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The Indiana Department of Education ordered schools Thursday to develop plans to prepare for the long-term fallout from that decision.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick says those “continuous learning plans" will help the state see how schools will continue educating all kindergarteners through high school juniors while buildings remain shut.
“What are we gonna do with that skill gap that obviously has come over the last few months and will continue on through the end of year and then our concern, again, is summer into next fall … but our goal is to look at our resources, understand our capacity so that we can address those gaps,” McCormick says.
Schools will not be allowed to open any school buildings unless outlined in earlier executive orders, like to help provide essential workers child care.
McCormick says schools will continue distance learning to finish out the school year, by using e-learning or other home-based tools like paper packets. Schools will have to submit their continuous learning plans to the state by April 17. Schools will be required to complete at least 160 instructional days for the school year, unless granted an additional waiver. Usually, school years have to provide instruction for at least 180 days.
Indiana is also changing its high school graduation requirements for the class of 2020. McCormick says the requirements for this year's seniors will be a little more flexible to reflect the current crisis.
“So, if they were enrolled for second semester – and, again, 75 percent of the school year was completed – but for second semester, if they were enrolled in a course, they will get credit," McCormick says. "They will get the credit … That will be recognized.”
High school seniors will have final graduation exams waived, and they will also receive credit toward receiving their diplomas for courses they've enrolled in for the spring semester – as long as they meet the distance learning participation requirements set by their school. They do not have to pass those courses, however.
Students in any lower grades who are working on high school credit-bearing courses, will continue earning credits toward graduation for courses they complete normally. McCormick says local schools will decide how to award credit to students for their coursework during the closures.
Teacher licenses that were set to expire between March and August have also been extended until Sept. 1 under Gov. Eric Holcomb's executive order.
But McCormick acknowledges distance or virtual learning isn’t possible for all districts and students, especially during unprecedented shutdowns of this length.
School building closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have further pushed into the spotlight the need for schools to better reach and serve all learners, including students with disabilities, students from low-income families, non-native English speakers, and families without reliable access to technology and the internet. McCormick says the state is working on gathering data to target resources and supports for groups.
Following the announcement, the Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill released a statement of support for the decision, calling the decision "prudent."
"We urge educators and families to follow precautionary social distancing so we can look to a new school year with hope that school will be in session," Gambill said in a statement.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association also sent a press release shortly after the decision was revealed to keep schools closed through the end of the academic year, saying spring sports are canceled, but the group hopes to return to regular sports programs in the fall.
"We join all Hoosiers in anticipation of a triumphant homecoming back to our schools in the fall of 2020 complete with a full complement of IHSAA sports," the statement said.