School leaders say CDC’s social distancing will be challenging to enforce

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) As the state of Indiana continues to slowly reopen, school administrators and teachers are tasked with planning for the possibility of schools to reopen in the fall. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released recommendations for reopening schools. However, there is concern about how some of the guidelines would be implemented. Especially social distancing. 

“We want to be open,” said Dr. Chris Himsel, Superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools. “But we are not going to reopen if we can’t confidently keep people safe.” 

Himsel said he and other school leaders are trying to find the balance between meeting the needs of kids and keeping them safe. While social distancing is an important part of controlling the spread of covid-19, it does pose some challenges.  

“We can’t grow our classrooms they’re pretty much all 900 square feet and there’s nothing we can do between now and August to make it larger,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to add more buses or add more routes. We’re not going to be able to increase the size of those buses or number of seats on those buses.”

To put it into perspective: Himsel said maintaining six or more feet social distance on a bus would mean only 13 children could ride. That’s compared to sixty or more passengers normally. 

So, what does social distancing look like at school? Educators really don’t know.

“If you have to space them out how does that work?” said Sandra Vohs President of the Fort Wayne Education Association. “Do you have to have different shifts of kids coming in a different times?” 

Part of the guidance for reopening schools include practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings and even installing physical barriers. Peppered throughout the recommendation is language like “as feasible.”

“It’s good to have flexibility but what exactly does something mean ‘as feasible,'” said Vohs. “Does that mean you don’t have to do this or you do have to do that?” 

Vohs said following the guidelines could look different from one school to another. Although social distancing creates a challenge, there are other guidelines that could more easily be incorporated, she said. 

“Hand washing, disinfecting the rooms, wearing masks in classrooms where teachers or kids are compromised… things like that I think are easier,” she said. 

Educators still have a lot of questions. No definitive plan has been issued by the state.

WANE 15’s Angelica Robinson asked Governor Eric Holcomb how the CDC’s guidelines would impact decision made for Indiana schools and when educators may learn about next steps as the plan for next school year.

“We plan to have an update before the next stage,” Holcomb said. “We are contemplating with superintendents with teachers. We hear from a lot of stake holders on this who all share the same goal of getting back to instruction but doing it safely.”

Himsel said NACS will continue to follow the direction of local public health and medical leaders, including the Allen County Health Department. Although new guidance is being issued by the CDC for schools reopening, he is prepared for the possibility that it could change.  

“We’ve seen tremendous changes from the guidance that we got in February to the guidance we are getting today,” said Himsel. “What I’ve learned over that span of time is that I can expect more changes to come.” 

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