McCormick: Kids No. 1 priority as schools start
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]
Dr. Jennifer McCormick, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, hosted a Q&A webinar with journalists throughout the state Thursday morning to address any concerns or questions that have and will continue to arise as Hoosier schoolchildren head back to school. She noted that every decision schools have made, on a local and state level, have been done with the kids as the No. 1 priority, backed by science-based answers, and that she firmly believes the state is ready to return to school.
A main point of conversation was on state testing and assessments students are required to take each year. Currently, the department is working on guidance to supply to district superintendents.
McCormick said a large part of this process is a waiting game, seeing how the virus spreads and evaluating the number of students who will be virtual at the time of testing. Virtual proctoring of state-mandated testing would be a bit more difficult, she said, but the state has currently made figuring that out a priority.
“There are a lot of moving parts to this,” McCormick said. “We don‘t have a lot of wait time for the fall assessments for some students, however. We have those fall tests ready and are communicating guidance to schools, but we know it’s not that clean or ideal for what we want. Any assessments we can get waived will be extremely important to waive, so we are working on that as well.”
McCormick also addressed high school sports, saying the state is relying heavily on medical experts at every level and each school district is fully prepared to halt activity if necessary.
“If they tell us to shut it down, we will shut it down,” she explained. “We are getting ready here shortly to have large crowds of spectators and, if we are still given the green light, I am sure schools will go with that green light, unless they hear differently.”
Some school districts have already identified students and employees infected with the coronavirus. Positivity rates are increasing in many communities, including Harrison County, where it is 8.1%. Indiana’s positivity rate is 8.8%. A positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive for the virus out of everyone who has been tested.
The state COVID-19 daily case spiked for two days in a row, breaking previous records both times. The new cases per day last week were mostly concentrated in the 1,000 to 1,200 range. Harrison County saw a spike, with Aug. 6 bringing 12 new cases.
The state total rose 6,617, going from 69,255 to 75,862 cases in a week. There have been 52 new deaths between Aug. 4 and 11 statewide.
The number of positive cases in Harrison County rose about 42 from Aug. 4 to 11, bringing the total count to 348. Preliminary numbers show about 314 tests were performed last week, rising to 4,233 people tested.
There have been no additional deaths since last week, the total keeping steady at 25, including two presumptive deaths. Presumptive deaths are when a COVID-19 test is not administered but the physician believes the patient had the virus.
McCormick said many educators and parents have asked the Indiana Dept. of Education to set a threshold which would dictate a hard number of cases or testing results that would signify when schools should close. However, she said that while a threshold would be helpful, establishing one is not the responsibility of the DOE.
“We don’t set that; you don’t want me to set that,” she said. “That comes from medical experts.”
McCormick also brought up in-person voting and having polling locations at schools, which Harrison County has. She said the IDOE supports absentee voting and there would have to be strict monitoring of people coming in and out of schools, along with detailed cleaning. She’s asking officials to consider finding another option.
State and local health departments continue to monitor this evolving situation and will make further recommendations as necessary. Visit the Indiana State Dept. of Health website at in.gov/coronavirus for the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 in Indiana.
Information for this story was also gathered by Joey Bowling.