Kokomo Tribune. September 3, 2020

Health, safety is job No. 1

In Indiana, we love our high school sports. Fall athletics such as football, volleyball, tennis, soccer – it doesn’t matter.

If we have a child or grandchild competing one evening, we want to be there to watch the game and support their team.

But this is 2020, the time of COVID-19. Though schools are back in session, they’re balancing in-person instruction with health concerns of students, teachers and staff.

One such infection in a high school can lead to 14-day quarantines for dozens of students and instructors. At Twin Lakes High School in Monticello, “multiple positive cases” for COVID led to the cancellation of all classes this week. Students are expected to return Sept. 10.

At Twin Lakes and other Indiana schools, that means no team practices and no games – even if every fan, coach and game official masks up to protect themselves and those attending the event.

Should COVID-19 cases spike or new information about the disease reveal new dangers, schools must be willing to change paths. Just as Twin Lakes did.

To assist school corporations in making such difficult decisions, state officials this week launched a new color-coded system – in blue, yellow, orange or red – that indicates severity of COVID’s spread in each of Indiana’s 92 counties. It’s based on a formula of the number of new cases per 100,000 residents, the positivity rate and the recent change in that rate.

Blue means minimal spread; yellow, moderate spread; orange, moderate to high spread. If the county is colored in red, state health officials recommend middle and high schools move to remote learning and cancel all extracurricular activities.

Wednesday, only one county, Martin County in southern Indiana, was colored red with a 20.8% positivity rate. You can check your home county’s positivity rate at https://www.coronavirus.in.gov/2393.htm .

Sports are an important part of a well-rounded education, but no school should let fun and games trump health considerations.

Yes, we Hoosiers love our high school sports. But it’s up to school officials, coaches, fans, families and the athletes themselves to make sure safety is job one as fall sports get underway in the pandemic.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. September 4, 2020

“Suitable’ solution

Sept. 18 was looming large on school administrators’ calendars this year. The date for the fall enrollment count is always important – it determines the amount of per-student tuition support Indiana schools receive to pay teacher salaries, buy instructional materials and more. This year, with a Statehouse threat to cut funding by 15% for students attending online classes, it was particularly worrisome.

But the Indiana State Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to allow schools to use last February’s Average Daily Membership count if operating online this fall.

It’s a different approach than was suggested by Gov. Eric Holcomb, who had proposed delaying the student count date, but it gets the job done. It protects brick-and-mortar schools from the prospect of losing millions of dollars for providing online instruction because of the coronavirus. Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, had raised that prospect, seemingly as pressure for schools to return to in-person instruction.

He pointed out that state law limits funding for online students at 85% of the tuition support total. That’s as it should be for schools created as online-only programs; their costs are limited almost entirely to teacher salaries. But traditional schools offering virtual instruction – in some cases because their county health departments recommend that – shouldn’t be held to that standard.

The board’s decision means local school districts will receive full funding, even for those students studying online. Phil Downs, superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools, said his district would have lost about $1.5 million in funding this fall if the 20% of students attending virtual classes had been counted at the lower rate.

The state’s board action is only a temporary fix, however. In their next session, lawmakers will have to address the current funding law.

“We do have to remember that this solution isn’t a permanent one,” Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, told the Associated Press. “But for now, it’s suitable to help us navigate through the winter until February.”

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The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. September 4, 2020

AU gets it right in the time of COVID

Anderson University serves as an example of how education can be done right in the time of COVID-19.

Few would deny the value of the in-person educational experience, and AU has proceeded forward in providing that while implementing several modifications to ensure safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

A former deputy director of the FBI, AU President John Pistole has learned from his counterterrorism days that risks cannot be eliminated but they can be mitigated.

On move-in day, gone was the festive atmosphere with an army of helpers hoisting the luggage of newcomers. Instead students and their families had to do the heavy lifting themselves and were required to wear face masks while on campus.

“I’ve got to say it went as smoothly as I think we could ever hope for,” Pistole told The Herald Bulletin on Thursday. “Students were anxious to be on campus so they were very cooperative and agreeable.”

Other measures include providing more single occupant rooms and allowing for more online engagement between students and teachers. About three-quarters of classes are being conducted online, Pistole said.

Looking back on the first week of school, Pistole said he was proud to see students wearing masks on campus and abiding by social distancing requirements. On Tuesday night, a chapel service was held outdoors.

“Faculty and staff did a great job of pivoting to the new normal,” Pistole said.

We can all get back to normal if we are willing to accept that normal has changed. We would do well to follow Anderson University’s example of pulling together as a community to mitigate risk.

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