No state-mandated reopening rules for Indiana schools

NEW PALESTINE, Ind. (WISH) — New Palestine High School welcomed students back on Monday as Indiana battled a resurgence of the coronavirus.

District officials were made aware of the high school’s second confirmed COVID-19 case before the end of the day.

A student who tested positive attended the first day of in-person classes after a family physician provided a note “with an incorrect return-to-school date,” Hancock County health officials and the Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County said in a joint statement.

Administrators isolated the student and initiated contact tracing efforts after they were notified by the county health department.

On Friday, three days before the district’s six schools reopened, New Palestine High School football players learned a teammate had tested positive for COVID-19.

Administrators canceled an optional football practice and ordered the student athlete’s close contacts to quarantine for 14 days, but did not change the district’s reopening plans.

“I’m worried,” said Brittany Durre, whose daughter is a New Palestine freshman. “I know that there’s more [COVID-19 reports coming]… For the most part, kids aren’t getting as sick. So they’re a lot more likely to take it home and spread it to somebody who will get really sick before anybody knows what’s going on.”

Haley Holcombe, a New Palestine senior, said she expected the school to ultimately close over coronavirus concerns.

“I give it maybe two weeks,” she told News 8.

By Monday, at least five school districts across central Indiana had reported COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

Without state-mandated reopening rules or a national pandemic policy for schools, the districts took varied approaches.

Elwood Junior Senior High School pivoted to all-virtual learning for the week of Aug. 3-7 after at least one staff member at the school tested positive for COVID-19, but athletic activities were permitted to continue.

Avon High School continued in-person classes after a staff member – who had not been in close contact with colleagues or students – tested positive.

Warren Central High School did not cancel athletic activities or delay its scheduled reopening after a student athlete on the football team tested positive.

Greenfield Central Junior High School did not cancel classes after a student tested positive on the first day of school.

The responses were largely informed by how many people were believed to have had contact with the positive cases and their roles in the school community.

A spokesperson for the Elwood Community School Corporation, the only district among the five to suspend in-person classes, said a “few staff members at Elwood Junior Senior High School were within close contact.”

The districts all conducted contact tracing and said they alerted “close contacts” who may have been exposed to the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a close contact as any person who is within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes, regardless of the use of a face covering.

A spokesperson for Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb directed News 8 to YouTube videos of the governor’s weekly coronavirus briefings in response to an inquiry about calls for more uniform pandemic policies at schools following new cases among students and staff.

The most recent briefing was July 29, before schools in Greenfield, Avon, New Palestine, Warren Township and Elwood reported positive cases.

The Indiana Department of Education does not have the authority to mandate policies for local school districts.