After Indiana extended its mandated closures of school buildings through the rest of the school year, many families are left wondering what this means for their children.

The announcement comes as the state scrambles to prepare for a predicted surge of COVID-19 cases in late April. But the disruption creates uncertainty for high school seniors, and further exacerbates concern about their academic progress and growing gaps between students who have access to e-learning and those who don’t.

By Friday, April 3, the number of coronavirus cases in Indiana rose to 3,437 — more than 400 more than the day before, according to the State Department of Health. More than 100 Hoosiers have died of the disease. Marion County alone has more than 1,400 coronavirus cases.

As Indiana schools adapt to the pandemic, Chalkbeat is here to answer your questions and bring you the latest news. If you have questions or thoughts you want to share, email us at in.tips@chalkbeat.org or fill out the form below. 

🔗How long will schools be closed?

School buildings will remain closed through the end of the academic year, State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick announced Thursday.

The statewide mandated closure was initially set to end May 1. But the extension was widely expected after Gov. Eric Holcomb said last month that it would be “a miracle” if students returned to classrooms this school year. Medical experts predict Indiana will see a surge of COVID-19 cases in late April.

🔗Will districts keep teaching students?

Yes, schools will be required to complete 160 days of instruction for the school year. That’s less than usual, since schools are typically required to provide 180 days of instruction. If closures cause some schools to fall short of that threshold, McCormick said they must at least hold 20 days of remote instruction before the end of the year.

Districts are required to submit a remote learning plan for the rest of the school year by April 17.

🔗What does remote instruction mean?

There are multiple ways districts can meet the remote instruction requirement.

One way is through e-learning, where students complete assignments and communicate with teachers online. It’s up to each district what their e-learning approach looks like, but typically it includes activities, videos, and tests. Teachers can also track and report attendance as usual, based on who logs in to finish their work.

Most districts are also offering paper packets of schoolwork for families who don’t have access to a computer, internet, or both. In those situations, progress and attendance is nearly impossible to track, because students likely won’t turn in their work until they return to school. Districts relying entirely on paper packets have struggled in recent weeks to meet the threshold for an instructional day, instead using waiver days, which allow schools to cancel classes entirely for as many as 20 days.

A few districts have simply closed entirely and aren’t offering any services for students, McCormick said Thursday. The department is targeting those districts to offer help, but there is no “one-size-fits-all solution,” she said.

Why is it difficult for districts to transition to e-learning?

Indiana is one of only 12 states that already has a formal e-learning policy, but those plans were largely designed for short-term, weather-related closures. A Chalkbeat analysis of state data found that only 30% of Indiana schools reported using an e-learning day last year. Wealthier schools were almost twice as likely to take advantage of online learning than those with high levels of poverty.

🔗What does this mean for high school seniors?

Seniors who are on track to graduate will still be given a diploma, McCormick said, despite the closures cutting short some of their required classes. As long as seniors are currently enrolled in a class, it will count towards graduation, she said. The state will also waive required graduation exams.

🔗What about graduation ceremonies?

It’s up to schools to cancel, postpone, or find an alternative for graduation ceremonies. McCormick said schools will “get creative” with what those look like. As for prom, many high schools have already cancelled or postponed the dance, and more will likely follow.

“If you want to be upset with someone, be upset with me,” McCormick said. “Support your local schools.”

🔗Will students have to attend summer school?

State officials have not addressed the possibility of making up lost instruction using summer school, or if typical plans for summer school will also be canceled because of the virus. McCormick said summer school and the fall semester could look different, depending on how the situation develops.

🔗Can students still get meals?

Yes. Nearly half of Indiana students depend on schools for healthy meals, including free or discounted breakfast, lunch, and even dinner. And in many Indianapolis districts, the numbers are even higher. That means school closures are putting extra pressure on low-income families.

A recent survey by the state Department of Education found that the vast majority of public schools that responded are providing some kind of food for students.

Indianapolis schools are trying to fill that gap by keeping some schools open to distribute meals — as many do during school breaks — and giving students packages with several meals for the week. Some districts are also delivering meals to large apartment complexes. Families can also get meals from community organizations, such as the Indy Parks.

Use this map to find where children can receive free meals in Indianapolis. (Lee aquí en español.)

🔗What about standardized testing?

Standardized tests have already been canceled this year. That includes Indiana’s ILEARN exam for grades 3-8 and the third-grade reading exam IREAD. The state has also canceled exit exams for high schoolers.

🔗Will teachers and hourly school workers still be paid?

In many cases, yes. Teachers salaries are covered by their contracts, and state mandates have allowed for teachers to be paid even while buildings are closed. As for hourly workers, such as bus drivers and food service employees, it’s up to individual districts to decide whether to continue paying them. Many districts have said they will continue to do so.

It helps that the state has ensured districts there will not be an immediate change to the state budget as a result of the coronavirus. The state will honor its 2020 budget, including school funding, officials said.

🔗Will schools get federal stimulus money?

Indiana will receive $215 million of the $13.5 billion that the federal government is handing out to states, McCormick said earlier this week. It can be used for needs like buying technology to get remote learning off the ground, sanitizing school buildings, and starting summer learning programs.

That stimulus package may sound big, but it’s not a lot compared with the $9.6 billion the state spends each year on schools. State officials cautioned school leaders during a webinar that the funding isn’t as much as it seems. No one is going to “get rich” with the extra money, McCormick said.

🔗What about teacher evaluations?

McCormick said the state Department of Education will release guidance soon on teacher evaluations, which typically rely heavily on observation and determines which teachers are eligible to receive pay raises.

🔗What if I think I’m showing symptoms of the coronavirus?

The state health department has a 24-hour Epidemiology Resource Center and can answer general questions at: 877-826-0011.