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MCCSC Plans For The 2020-2021 Academic Year

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>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome to Noon Edition. I'm Bob Zaltsberg from the WFIU WTIU Newsroom. For the fourth month, we are recording the show remotely because of COVID-19 to reduce the risk of spreading infection. Today, we're talking about plans for the school year reopening. We have three guests with us or four guests with us - Jeanie Lindsay - I'm identifying her as a guest. Jeanie is the Indian public broadcasting education reporter. She'll be answering some questions today, which will also be asking a few questions. Jennifer Smith-Margraf is the ISTA vice president. That's the NBN the State Teachers Association. Paul Farmer is a teacher at the Bloomington High School north and MCEA County Education Association President. And Judy DeMuth is the superintendent of the Monroe County Community School Corporation. You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition. You can send us questions there. You can also send us questions for the show at So thank you all for being here. Paul Farmer, Judy Demuth you were here just a few weeks ago. I want to start with the two of you. Superintendent DeMuth, Dr. DeMuth, how have things changed in the last couple of weeks? Are you still full speed ahead on your reentry plan? 

>>JUDY DEMUTH: Well, thanks, Bob. It's really great to be back and thanks for having all of us. As we said before, this is an extremely complex situation. Yes, right now, we're operating with the same reentry plan. Our buildings actually put specific plans out for their families so that they could get a better understanding of the intricacies for each building. Each building's different because of the different capacities of the building, the different levels of the building. Lots of things about the building designs. But the one overriding or arching theme is, you know, safety of our staff, safety of our students. And we're daily in daily communication with our county health department and also the state. You know, I've been really fortunate to be with Dr. (unintelligible) every week. And so, you know, our top priority when we started all this in March is the safety of our staff, the safety of our students, what does that look like? And then, of course, really serving our families because that's what we're here for. So although the plans have changed the (unintelligible), there've been some modifications. And we can get into that a little bit. But, again, on a daily basis, we're monitoring the health safety and well-being of both students and staff. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Paul Farmer from the MCEA standpoint, you still - you're relatively comfortable last time we talked? Are you still comfortable about going back in the classroom? 

>>PAUL FARMER: Thanks, Bob. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to come on like Dr. DeMuth just mentioned. No matter what as we go down this road, the stress levels increase because obviously cases have gone up. And so am I in the exact same position? No way. None of us can be in the exact same position that we were just two or three weeks ago. So we - as we go forward, you know, we have to keep as Doctor DeMuth said safety in mind. And do we have teachers out there that are more concerned now than what they were before? Absolutely. If people aren't concerned, then I would have a question about OK, why are you not concerned? So that is something that as we continue to move forward we look at all of our building plans. We have teachers involved all over the place in our corporation. Lots of input in each building as to how the buildings are going to keep kids safe, keep teachers safe, eat lunch, so on and so forth. Transition with classes and so on. So from a standpoint, do we feel better about how we're going to proceed forward? Sure. But at the same time, more concerns about OK, if we do have an outbreak, if we have a student or a staff or somebody that does come down, how is the Mineral County Health Department going to work with us as we move forward. How are we going to make sure that we maintain that safety? So, you know, we - I know Dr. DeMuth, we talked about this before. All of our students and staff are required to wear a mask. We are washing hands. We are using hand sanitizers. Each room is being cleaned every single night. So there's a lot of precautions and things going in that research. And our doctors, Dr. (unintelligible) at the state recommendations that we are moving forward and we're doing for the most part exactly what they say that we should be doing. So we're scared, yes (laughter). But who wouldn't be moving forward? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So I want to broaden this out and ask Jennifer Smith-Margraf, the ISTA vice president about your view from around the state. And I will preface this by saying I saw your interview with WRTB6 last week and you said, you know, you hoped that people would be prepared because it's not if but it's when a student or a teacher dies, which is a pretty dire outlook for how you think things are going to go forward. So could you expand on that? 

>>JENNIFER SMITH-MARGRAF: Good afternoon. First of all let me say thank you for allowing ISTA to join you today in this important conversation. The main message that we have from ISTA is that looking around the states we're missing a couple of things that it sounds like at least one of them Monroe County has in place. And then the other that we're hearing from around the state is still an issue. And that first piece is that there is not a universal mass mandate for students and staff in all of our school. And from what we know through the science that has come forward from all around the world that the best thing that we can do, especially when we are in interior spaces like schools, is to have everyone wearing a mask to prevent the spread. If you look at Japan specifically because in Asia wearing masks is much more common than it is say in some of our western cultures, they have not had to shut down the way we have and yet have prevented having huge outbreaks the way that we have because they are all wearing masks. And so that's something that we talked about asking, we talked about with our meeting with the governor earlier this week asking for that mask mandate to be put in place because that's one of the most important things we think we can do in order to stop the spread. The other concern that we still have that we haven't seen a good answer to is having clear metrics for schools and school corporations to determine when it is that they should be closing a building and going to virtual instruction. As Paul alluded to, cases are rising in certain parts of the state. And in certain areas, the tension there is much higher because of that. And so what we're looking for from the state is to get some clear metrics that help people understand that when these things do happen we are going to take their health and safety into account and we are going to close buildings down in order to protect them and transition into online learning. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. And Jeanie Lindsey, you've been covering this from a statewide perspective. So you've heard our three previous speakers. So are those the issues that you're hearing when you're talking to people around the state or there other things that we haven't gotten to yet? 

>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Yeah, I absolutely think that all the points that have been raised already are what I've been hearing a lot of. One of the things that's come up in the next few weeks that I've heard during my reporting is also about equity for students. So, you know, with schools opening back up, there are concerns about academic equity, you know, learning losses and gaps especially for students who might not have had the same resources when they've been learning from home or learning remotely. But also this concept that I talked to a school nurse about is medical equity. One of the things that I've seen schools doing and the guidance from the Department of Education has talked a lot about, you know, if students have symptoms, you know, sending them home and, you know, separating them and the sort of, you know, clinic sort of thing if they have coded symptoms while other students may not. But the school nurse that I talked with down in New Albany was saying that, you know, it's easy to say, you know, if a kid has COVID symptoms they need to go home. But what happens if their parent is at work and they don't have a ride home? And so things like that have come up especially with the conversations, with the, you know, protests that we've seen focused on black lives matter. You know, the questions about equity in schools have also come up a lot. So it's just making a complicated situation. You know, there's no end to the complicated nature of this, which is really tough for everybody involved. Absolutely. But that is another thing that I've been very interested in talking with folks about and learning more about, some of the concerns on that front. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well, let's ask Judy DeMuth about the equity issue and how the MCCSC she is approaching that. 

>>JUDY DEMUTH: So when we put our broad based community committee together, that was one of the overriding writing guidance pieces or facts that we wanted to respond to. And that was we certainly understood that when we went to online there were many children that even though we're all thinking everybody was home they really weren't because there were a lot of people out in the field working. There were - you know, stores started opening up. Our first responders were out there working. And then through the months, we've seen more people working. And so it's really a difficult one because we realize that when children were on line and they didn't have support at home it was really difficult at times to get them to get online and get their work done. Our teachers did an amazing job. Counselors, social workers, they were trying to connect with the families. On top of that, we had about 360 families that really didn't have good connectivity. And we tried to respond to that through our CARES grant by putting Internet on some buses that will be located in various areas where we know the Internet is not very good. And also having what's called a MiFi modified so that an individual's family can also have connectivity. So we're blanketing those 360 families, should we go online because we want to make sure - we know - the most frightening thing is for us right now as educators is that we know we didn't do our very best job with those kids as we closed down and we know there are gaps and we know there was insufficient learning for a lot of our children. And we as educators want to make sure we can close those gaps, become very efficient and get the kids the things they need. There's nothing worse or more frightening to us is to have a group of unlearned children so to speak. And so as educators, we want those children and we know they have social and emotional needs that we need to handle, to respond to. And so that's why our plan - we've tried to really give different situations or scenarios for families to respond to, whether they want their children face to face, if they want a hybrid, if they want the child in school five days and, or if they want them online. We've tried to give all those scenarios and let families decide. And that's complex in itself because of the amount of work it's taken to prepare for that. However, I think we're going to give our kids a really good experience no matter what choice families make. But at the end of the day if we are shut down, whether a classroom, a school or us as corporation, we know we have to be tight on our online services and really make sure we are working with children at home. Even if there's no one else at home, we have to make sure the kids are getting the education they deserve. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I want to ask Jennifer Smith-Margraf about this issue as well because you're looking at it from a statewide perspective and, you know, Dr. DeMuth just outlined what MCCSC is doing. That's - you know, that's one local corporation's attempt to address this. You know, you've talked about state mandates or not mandates but a state strategy as well. I mean, how do you make sure that this kind of - this kind of an issue of equity is addressed when there are 92 counties in the state and I've lost track of how many school corporations are 300 or so I assume are quite a few anyway. How do you make sure that this kind of care is taken throughout the state? 

>>JENNIFER SMITH-MARGRAF: Well, that's an excellent question and an excellent point. One of the things that I think is frustrating to educators is that we have been talking about these issues and these inequities and these disparities for quite a long time. They show up in funding in terms of how education is funded and in the funding formula. They show up in terms of who is able to recruit and retain the best educator across the state. It shows up in terms of broadband access and then people's ability to pay for getting into that broadband access system. And so what the pandemic has done is it has surfaced all of these issues into a way that everyone is forced to see them whereas before I think a lot of us felt like we were just seeing them in our own individual areas and it wasn't rising to the surface state level. And so we are hoping that the state legislature seeing this, as well. And we are going to be going forward into this legislative session with renewed effort and energy to advocate on all of those issues to get a statewide strategy in order to fix all of these issues that are going on. And you alluded to some things outside of the education arena, as well. Certainly we have seen that there are inequities in many of these same communities in terms of medical access and in terms of the safety net for people when their business is shut down. And so we need to make sure that we're looking at our entire state and we're putting policies in place that are good for the entire state and not just for certain areas of it that tend to have more representation at the State House and others. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We're talking about reopening school today on Noon Edition, and you can participate in this live conversation by tweeting us @NoonEdition. You can also send us questions to news at We have gotten a couple of questions, and these are things that you've also all talked about just a little bit but they're very basic and very specific. One of the questions is, how are the conditions for opening schools safer now than when we decided to close them in the spring? And then there's a second question that's very similar. It's a case of COVID arising locally, statewide and nationally. Is it safe to open schools when the virus does not seem to be under control? So, you know, any or all of you can address that but I think I'd like to ask Dr. DeMuth to start. 

>>JUDY DEMUTH: Well, thank you. That's a great question. You know, we aren't medical professionals. Dr. McCormick, our state superintendent has said that over and over. We have to rely on our health professionals. We have to rely on Dr. (unintelligible). Our county Penny Caudill has been extremely helpful. Our physicians who we had on our committee, we have to rely on those people because that's their expertise. And we have to - I think what's changed is we've learned more about what's happening. I think what's changed is people feel a little more confident with a little more testing. You know, again, I'm acting like I'm a medical professional, but I'm not. At the end of the day, I think there is more of a competence that they'd better understand how to stop the spread. But look, when we started our meetings as a corporation way back in March or April, the doctors said to us, you know, you have to decide - you know, if you think you're going to stop this from happening, you're not. So quit talking as a committee about trying to stop it because you're not going to stop. But you can certainly slow the spread and really you - it's not - it's when you're going to be handling this situation. So, you know, I can tell you right now, you know, the Indiana High School Athletic Association began athletics a couple of weeks ago, and all over the state we've seen situations of COVID, us included. We work closely with the Health Department. They're helping us with families, contact tracing. And so those things are all happening. But quite frankly, you know, it's exhausting for everyone and I don't - when we bring all of our children back and our staff back, I think that will continue. So from a medical perspective I think we'd have to go to the medical folks. From our perspective, it is an exhausting situation to try to make sure that we can accommodate all of our families and then make sure they're in a very safe environment. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: You mentioned... 


>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah, go ahead. 

>>PAUL FARMER: Sorry. I didn't if I could say something. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Oh, absolutely, Paul. Sure. 

>>PAUL FARMER: I think one of the things - when you look at them, I think you have to look at the differences between what was going on in the spring and what is going on now. In the spring, there was a lot of, first of all, just what is this virus. We didn't know a lot about it. We didn't know all of the details of how it was spreading. We know that it was in some areas, like New York and other areas around the world that in high density populated areas we were overcrowding our hospitals. It was a time when we just said OK, we got to stop. There was no plan for safety for students. There was no plan for mass. There was no - you know, in other words, we had to stop because we had to make a dramatic change. Since that time, research has come out. We learned more. Doctors have done research, and we've learned a lot about this virus. And we've learned how to help mitigate the spread of it. And so therefore over the summer, thousands of hours have been put in by administration, teachers, our community to put together a program for our safety of our students and our staff to move forward. Is it perfect? Of course not. Is it going to change between today and tomorrow? There will be things that probably do change. That's just that's what we do. And so I think we have to look at it and say things are different because we know more and we've had time to prepare. So I think that's important to consider as we move forward and answer some of those questions about the differences. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Just going to mention that - that's a great answer, Paul, and I appreciate it. I was going to mention the (unintelligible) mentioned them. The state marching band group that has the competition has said there won't be marching band this fall, as well. Correct? 

>>JUDY DEMUTH: What I've read on that is that they're not going to have their state competitions. I think they're, again, leaving it up to the local as to whether they will continue having marching band and doing the kinds of things that, you know, that bands do whether they perform at a football game, basketball game or that kind of thing. But in terms of their actual competition going to the state, going to the various things that they do on weekends, those are the things that will not be in place. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. Thank you for that clarification. Jeanie Lindsey, I want to ask you first and then Jennifer, you can probably jump in on this. But what have you seen from the state level in terms of leadership on this? Has there - but what can you point to that would show that the state, either the legislature or State Department of Education - what kind of what kinds of areas have they been leaders in this? Jeanie. 

>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Well, the - Dr. McCormick at the Department of Education has been hosting webinars, not weekly. They used to be weekly, but now they're kind of every other week a little more sporadic. But that has been - from what I've heard from, you know, folks I've talked to after and outside of those webinars, those have been really helpful from what I've heard just in terms of information. You know, it's a direct line from the head of the department, I mean, the top school official in the state. Two, you know, school administrators, and it covers every issue that you can fit into an hour and 15 minutes from finances and the CARES Act and funding on that front to guidance. But a lot of the conversation, you know, as the plans for schools have been, you know, amping up and coming out has really directed folks to the local level. A lot of the questions that, you know, have been asked to the higher ups in state government have really kind of deferred to local health officials, local health departments, local school boards, administrators, et cetera. So, you know, there has been kind of this overarching guidance that has come out but it's just that guidance. They're not really requiring a whole lot to go on, and the plans that schools are coming up with - to my knowledge, those aren't actually being required to be sent to the state, you know? So that's something that is being kept at the local level. But one of the things that Dr. McCormick has done that I've noticed especially in recent weeks as school conversations have heated up at the federal level she has kind of taken on a role almost as a sort of, I guess, buffer from some of those federal conversations and debates about whether schools should reopen or not. You know, the CARES Act funding that Secretary DeVos was talking about being split with private schools because that was the thing. You know, Dr. McCormick has committed to sharing the CARES Act funding going through her department, you know, in a different way than what was initially talked about from Devos' department. So that has been, I think, an interesting piece to see just in terms of how, you know, the state is talking about this and how the state is moving forward despite some of the other rhetoric that's been talked about in schools. So, you know, there's a lot of, I think, from what I've seen maybe loose guidance that really has just kind of been deflected or deferred to that local level because they - you know, the governor and Dr. (unintelligible) Box and Dr. McCormick have all said that, you know, Marion County is going to look a lot different than other counties in the state. So really it's up to those locals to make a decision on what makes sense for their community and what people want in those communities. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Jennifer Smith-Margraf, do you want to address that? 

>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Yes, thank you. So first of all, I would like to reiterate that I believe that Dr. McCormick and her department have been doing the absolute best job that they can. Her weekly webinars that have now become biweekly are places that we all go and get great information and where people can ask questions. She's brought in Dr. (unintelligible) to those webinars on occasions to also answer more health related questions and those. And she's been very supportive of schools, most especially in terms of following the intent of the federal law which they have clearly said was to do with the CARES Act money the way Dr. McCormick and the GOE is handling it, not the way that Betsy DeVos has come out and talked about it because she's trying to pursue her own personal agenda and certainly not having the support at the federal level has made this all much more difficult for everyone at the state. I would say that we did have a running joke. Those of us watching the webinars was, how many times would Dr. McCormick say you need to speak to your local health department? And that's, again, where I think you're hearing most of the concern come from the members that we represent but also from parents. The original question that you had asking about what's different now may have come from a parent who's trying to make a decision about a child who's medically fragile and whether or not they should choose to go all virtual, which is an option many school corporations are giving or whether or not they should send them back to school. And part of the reason why I think parents are struggling with that so much is because they along with the members we represent don't have a clear set of metrics to know OK, when we get to this particular level this is where we're starting to have a - so let's use red light, yellow light, green light. Let's say right now Warren County next door to me, I think, has had 18 cases total. So they would probably be a green light. They're not a place where there's a high rising of COVID. As long as they have a good solid plan in place or doing things like wearing masks, they probably are in a better position to go back to school and have a very small outbreak if they have one at all. But we don't know where that goes from being a green light into being a yellow light where we really need to be more cautious and start considering to do other things or when we get to a red light where, you know, what maybe we need to take this particular building or this particular corporation, we need to close down to go virtual for a little while in order to reduce the cases and come back. And that is where a lot of the stress and fear is coming from because we don't have those clear metrics with which to judge. And the only place that we can look for those at this particular point is to Dr. (unintelligible) and the governor because the local health departments are just - they're set up to help us but they're not set up to make those kind of big determinations. It really is something that needs to come from state leadership, and we communicated that to them earlier this week when we spoke with them and we're hopeful that we are going to hear about some metrics shortly. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, we're talking about the reopening of school, which is to come up here in two or three weeks. So we're coming right up on it. We have four guests that we're talking with Dr. Judy DeMuth, the Monroe County Community Corporation superintendent; Paul Farmer, a teacher at Bloomington High School North and the Monroe County Education Association President. He is the union - he's the union president. Jennifer Smith-Margraf who is ISTA vice president and Jeanie Lindsay the Indiana Public Broadcasting education reporter. You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition, and you can send us questions there. You can also send us questions for the show and We're starting to get some questions, and I'm going to take them in the order in which we've received them. The first one that we got a little bit ago was, are schools afraid that - and I guess this for Dr. DeMuth - school corporations afraid the parents will point fingers if their kids do get infected, are you worried about legal action? 

>>JUDY DEMUTH: Excellent question. Yes. You know, I think it's just a matter of time before we see the lawsuits flying. There is contact, what's called contact tracing. The state has hired contact tracers in the situations that we've been involved in. You know, there are certain days that students have to be quarantined. That's the word that's used. And it depends if they've, you know, come - they've been associated with someone else or if there's a positive test and there's all kinds of information that we're following from the Department of Health. But I think that parents, those parents who we've been involved with recently typically it's been from somewhere else because school has not been in session. These have been activities kids have been bound - been involved in, but it's from somewhere else. So I - yeah, I foresee - I would be lying if I didn't say I'm worried about that for every school corporation in the state because I think, once all kids get back together, we may see a different picture. And let's face it, a lot of our kids haven't been out yet. So when they all get back together, we may see much - a much different situation. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Do you know if there's anything that the - that state government could do that would help protect school corporations against legal action in a case like this? 

>>JUDY DEMUTH: There was a lot of talk and discussion about a hold harmless for schools. I don't know where that's at right now. I think it kind of fell off by the wayside, quite frankly. You know, we've talked with our legal counsel and many people throughout the state have talked about, you know, a hold harmless document parents sign and, you know, unfortunately, right now, it's not worth the paper it's written on until there's substantial enforcement behind it. So right now we're all sitting out there, you know, thinking - or anticipated that definitely there will be legal action if, in fact, we have a situation that's, you know, very drastic. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. We have this question from Twitter. We know we can't stop it, so why not delay it? Play it safe, especially with IU students coming back. Give teachers time to work on and improve their online teaching skills and move forward until numbers are down. I guess that's you again, Dr. Demuth - or Paul Farmer, you want to try that? 


>>PAUL FARMER: I can jump in on some of that with that. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah, sure. 

>>PAUL FARMER: I mean, there are some things that, like - say, for example, we - well let's just delay until the beginning of September or after Labor Day and so on and so forth. You know - and they say we can give teachers more time to prepare and so on and so forth. One thing that we have to remember, there are contractual obligations. You know, we can't - yes, the teachers - we have a contract. It's 185 days. And so Dr. Demuth - like, our first day is August 3rd. So we go ahead and say we're going to delay the school until the start of September. And if I was sitting here talking to Demuth - it doesn't matter, I'm talking about it on radio, but I'm going to tell her. If we do that, teachers aren't coming in August 3rd. They're not going to be required. Because you have to look at the contract - and so we will start - we would have to do some form of discussionary - I don't want to use the term negotiations, but there are some things that we have to follow. We have 185 days. The students have to go 180. So if we start in September, we're going almost to the end of June. And so there are issues. And so, you know, teachers also have second and third jobs as well. They - a lot of them don't make enough money to be able to - just teaching. They've got to be able to do a second and a third job. So I think it's just not as simple as doing that from a contractual standpoint. Now, the science - because I teach biology, physics and chemistry - comes out in me. Every researcher is telling you that, as the fall moves on, it's not going to get better. So if there's some teaching strategy involved - if we have to go online totally, as Dr. Demuth said earlier, there's a lot of our students - we struggled in the springtime with our online. So we do need to spend some time with some - especially some of our students who are behind to be able to help get them caught up, get them - you know, our kinder - I think K through three - or K through two, sorry - did not even use online last spring. They're going to have to learn how to do that before we move that because they're going to be online if we have to go online. So there's a lot of stuff that I think we've got to be careful about and think about before we just jump in and say, we're going to move at least two to three or four weeks before we get started. It's just not as simple as jumping forward immediately. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Dr. Demuth? 

>>JUDY DEMUTH: Well I would say, you know, Dr. McCormick has, you know, consistently said that all the health professionals are saying it's going to get worse before it gets better. She's encouraged us to begin school on time. You know, recently we saw an Indianapolis school move their time about a week back, but they were to start at the end of July. We're pretty consistent with what's happening. I think that the state has come out pretty forcefully, quite frankly, in a document that talks about the integrity and - of the education that our kids receive. They've let superintendents know that they were not pleased with what happened last year and they really want to make sure that, when we go online, students are getting five hours of instruction and six hours instructions as they've so deemed. And we know that that's not live instruction all day long, but we certainly know it's going to be different than in the spring when we put - what we basically did was try to have office hours for our students and our staff members had some flexibility. This, I think, will be a little different for our teachers to teach online because the expectation is that we've tightened up. And our teachers have been fantastic over the summer, really taking a lot of great coursework and professional development activities that we've been able to offer, so I feel like they're much more prepared. So - but there are complexities in moving it just because we know we're probably going to have to go all-online at some point in time through the course of this year. And the other thing we worry about is the social and emotional well-being of our kids. You know, we're a very child focused people centered occupation. And so when we don't have those kids and we can't meet their needs in every way, it's very difficult. And we know there are kids out there struggling. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: It's a question that's come in that sort of follows along that the social aspect of all this. I guess I'm going to ask the two people who are involved with the most with teachers while Dr. DeMuth are, too. But the two teacher's union people to talk about this first. How will students benefit from in-person learning when they must adhere to social distancing and enforce no contact especially for younger grades? Paul, do you want to? 

>>PAUL FARMER: Yeah, sure. Sure. I mean, there's - absolute, there's research out there that even the American Association of Pediatrics with our doctors that did have continually said throughout this process that our students do so much better both emotionally and socially as well as academically when it's face to face. And so, you know, that's why guidelines are put out about mask wearing and about washing hands and social distancing and so on and so forth. And that's why we follow those because it is crucial especially for the development of our youngest children and youngest students but also even for our high schoolers as well. Because what happens now is we're forming those habits, if you wish, and culture that's going to influence them for the rest of their life. And so we have to be very careful about what we do now because it may have decades of implications as those students move forward. So I know our elementary teachers in particular are very, very concerned about not being able to be with their students, you know, and they know how important it is to have that socialization for them. So that is a huge thing. And that weighs on their mind when they make - you have to make a decision of, you know, coming back, not coming back and that type of stuff. So I'll let Jennifer say if she wants to say they do. 

>>JENNIFER SMITH-MARGRAF: Thanks, Paul. I think that if you asked any educator we would all agree that the best thing that we can do is be in person with our students where we can be close to them and work with them. But we have a pandemic that's interfering with that. And we have to take them, everyone's health and safety in mind because we're dealing with pandemic circumstances. And so what we need to do is keep in mind that we want to try and open buildings but we have to do that safely. And that means that if we can get everybody in a building wearing a mask and practicing social distancing then likely many of us will be able to be together safely at school. We also then - I'm a broken record - need to go back to those metrics to know that if for some reason the level of safety has gone down that there's trust from those students and parents that we will then close the building till it's safe to bring them back in. We want to try and get them in there as much as possible. But I think the key word is that we have to do it safely. And that's why we're looking right now at state level because we're not getting a lot of federal guidance about what things can school corporations put in place to make sure that that happens other than making sure everyone's wearing a mask and socially distancing from each other. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Monroe County has just weighed in on this. I'm going to give you a little bit of breaking news. The county has just issued a mask order. Face coverings are required beginning at 5:00 p.m. today, requires - the order requires that everyone over the age of 2 with some exceptions to wear a face mask covering when not socially distant indoors or outdoors with others outside of their immediate family. They must wear the covering over the nose and mouth, so that will help any other school districts in Monroe County or schools in Monroe County private to make sure that they have to have a face mask, their face mask order will be in effect for all of them as well. So Jeanie Lindsay, you've been following this story and I know you're always looking for, you know, stories about trying to tell stories about the effects of things like this. What are some of the effects that you're going to be looking at long term, things like testing and scheduling and teacher rights and things like that? I mean, what are some of the things that you're most interested in following up on... 

>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Yeah, absolutely. And that's the teacher aspect of it is something I'm going to be very interested in. I mean, we had a huge teacher rally outside of the state house back in November, and it feels like that was a billion years ago. But I'm curious as to how school reopening and the concerns about, you know, structure and leadership and resources is going to play out in terms of the teacher advocacy especially given the election this year. And that's going to be another huge piece that I'm very interested in because the person who wins the gubernatorial race, the race for governor this fall is going to be in charge of leading the Department of Education in Indiana. And so Jennifer McCormick, you know, as much as she has been a resource and leader for folks as we've heard here and as I've heard in my reporting she's leaving in this moment. So I'm super curious to see how educators and school folks talk about the election and look to Governor Holcomb for some of the leadership that they've gotten from Jennifer McCormick because that is going to be a significant transition. I'm also really curious when it comes to schools operating. I mean, the iRead has been - it was - the standardized testing was taken off the table this year, this past school year when the pandemic was making its debut. But this year, I mean, the test schedule is set. The standardized testing, the state Board of Education has already been talking about testing windows and, you know, letting schools use the iRead for their fourth graders this fall to help gauge some of those reading losses. So I'm really curious to see how schools are going to be navigating standardized testing amid a pandemic. And you know what that's going to look like. The data that we get from schools every year on a statewide level. You know, 2020 is going to have a lot of asterisks next to it, and the stuff that we're going to be getting in 2021, you know, you'll see data and basically look at the effect of COVID-19 in terms of the numbers. So, you know, from a statewide education reporter standpoint, I am - I'm very nerdy when it comes to looking at data. So I'll be curious to see how that changes. The other thing that I'll add, too, I mean, one of the things that's consistently come up in these conversations is about support for schools. We've talked about CARES Act funding. We've talked about, you know, federal stimulus legislation and things like that. And with the price tag of all of these changes and all of these adjustments and closing and reopening schools if there's a pandemic outbreak, you know, locally it's just - I'll be very interested to see what the budget looks like from the state perspective. They're not cutting anything for K-12 schools during this current budget cycle that we're in right now. But, I mean, January comes and the, you know, Department of Education has that huge transition with Dr. McCormick leaving and then there's also the state budget that needs to be made. And then there's also the future of federal stimulus dollars and support going to schools. So it is going to be really interesting to see how all of that plays out and then, you know, some of the data that I already mentioned. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, I'm going to give the other three guests the opportunity to sort of turn the tables on you, Jeanie. So I'm going to ask them to sort of give you a grade. I mean, how - are those the biggest issues in your mind, too, or maybe you could add some things to Jeanie's list of long-erm stories that she should be looking at? Dr. DeMuth. 

>>JUDY DEMUTH: Well, I think another aspect to all of this is really the effect on our children because, you know, having children myself that have children, you know, as a grandparent we really worry about, you know, what's happening in the world and what's happening to our children. And, you know, we talked a lot about the fact that they have to remain very positive because, you know, us old people keep saying, oh, my gosh, we've never seen anything like this. And I keep saying this is horrible and this is - but you know what? Our kids have to see the future and they have to see positivity. So I'm really wondering how this is all going to affect, you know, the long-term education of our children, you know, how they present themselves in the world, if you will. You know, I'm also worried about when we put our kids online. You know, when I sit and watch TV for a couple hours, I probably see five commercials about virtual schooling. OK, so if we're going to start competing with virtual schooling, we know we have those relationships with kids when they're with us. We know we can help them socially and emotionally. But if we're going to be competing in a virtual situation and competing with online schools that been in it for a long time, I'm really concerned about that. I'm concerned about how schools will look in the future. And I'm extremely concerned that our kids are well educated. I think all of those things will be very interesting as time moves forward. 


>>PAUL FARMER: Yeah, I'll second everything that Dr. DeMuth just said, as well. But there's also something else that, you know, looking into the future and Jeanie she touched on this about, you know, the changes that are coming, the election and Dr. McCormick leaving and so on and so forth. But there's something that is coming this spring is another biennium. And there's budgetary process. We know what COVID has done to the economy. And all of our schools are funded through taxpayer dollars. And when that taxpayer dollars decrease, then funding decreases. And so that is one of the things that, you know, as I'm looking a year from now two years, three years but definitely here coming up a year from now how will the new budget that's going to be started here in January February and March, what Cliff is coming and what is the governor, what is the - what are the legislators going to do to mitigate it because we don't want another 2010 to happen again. But there's actually some conversation out there that we may be looking at that or something that may be even worse than what happened. And so that... 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Could you describe what happened a little bit? 

>>PAUL FARMER: That here in the state of Indiana which was cut over $300 million dollars was out of education. Again, and so, you know, if - as Dr. DeMuth said for already competing with charter schools, we're already competing with the vouchers. And if there's going to be another one, I mean, it's - that is going to be a very difficult situation. And I think people have to realize that is coming. And it's real. And so how are we going to mitigate that and I'm going to let Jennifer talked about ISTA moving forward because I know there's been conversations with that as well. But - and I didn't mean to say that for you, Jennifer. So I'll let Jennifer talk. 

>>JENNIFER SMITH-MARGRAF: Thanks, Paul. No, I think you hit two of the three big issues, and the fact that $300 million that was cut. When we were doing the studies about why we can't recruit and retain high quality educators across the state of Indiana, that $300 million over time turned into the billions of dollars that we are short compared to all the states around us. And so we're very concerned about the fact that we still have a teacher shortage - that didn't go away. And so how are we in all of this going to find ways to go back and recruit and retain teachers especially if some of our medically vulnerable staff is deciding to retire early and are leaving the profession? Who's going to replace them? You mentioned standardized testing, I think all of us agree that we should be spending the time we're spending on standardized testing teaching our students, educating them. That's what they need from us, not taking another test. And that money that we could be - that we're spending on standardized testing, we could be spending on these other things that we have identified as being higher priorities in the state. But the one thing that no one's mentioned yet is the fact that the situation with the murder of George Floyd has raised up again all of these systematic inequities in our society. And so we have all of these different things and systems across our state including the educational system through funding, through testing, through other things that really adversely affects many students but over adversely affects our black and brown students. And so what I'm hoping people will focus on as we go forward is what are we going to do to change the system so that every single child in this state has the same opportunities to learn and grow regardless of their race or ethnic background. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We have about two minutes to go, and we add one more question or not a question. It's really a comment from Facebook, and I'm going to just paraphrase it. It talks about what you were just talking about Jennifer in terms of a system. Person says we have a chance for a reset, talks about how ramping up e-learning could help us in numerous ways. It talks about the fact that there weren't school shootings this spring because we weren't in school and that some problems encounter with e-learning pale in comparison to that. So Dr. DeMuth, are we in - is it going to be a reset in terms of the whole system and how we're going to be operating our schools? Two minutes or less. 

>>JUDY DEMUTH: Well, you know, when this all started and we had to stop school, many of us said to each other, you know, this isn't really bad because we can relook and make sure we do reinforce those inequities and make sure that they don't exist any longer. And so I think that, again, those inequities did show up. We're going to be attacking them as best we can but really I want, you know, the best situation for our children is to be with us. So e-learning could help. But we've got to make sure the way that we're attacking those inequities in our buildings also. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Jennifer, do you want to comment on that any further? 

>>JENNIFER SMITH-MARGRAF: Our state association is going to be working on systematic change because we know that is what is needed in this state and across the country. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Paul, any last words, we're about out of time? 

>>PAUL FARMER: I think any type of systematic change like that, just like a teacher in a classroom, you're going to have so many things thrown at you. You're going to do it slowly, and you're going to talk about advantages, disadvantages and go to Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. So I don't see a huge jump that quickly because I think that's not good for all of our students. So go slow. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, thank you Paul Farmer from the MCEA, the Monroe County Education Association, Dr. Judy DeMuth MCCSC Superintendent, Jennifer Smith-Margraf, ISTA vice president and Jeanie Lindsay, my colleague from Indiana Public Broadcasting. For my - well, I don't have a co-host today, except for Jeanie. But for our engineers, John Bailey and Matt Stonecipher, Mike Paskash. And for our producer Bente Bouthier. I'm Bob Zaltsberg. Thanks for listening. 


>>UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Noon Edition is a production of WFIU public radio. A podcast of this program is available at Production Support for Noon Edition comes from Smithville, fiber internet, streaming TV, home security and automation in southern Indiana. More information at And from the Bloomington Health Foundation partnering with local organizations and citizens to invest in programs that address our community's health needs. Bloomington health foundation, improving health and well-being takes a community. More at


Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.

As COVID-19 infection rates climb across the state and in Monroe County this month, plans for the 2020-2021 academic year have been finalized.

State health commissioner Kristina Box said the state does not have specific metrics for schools to follow in their counties, but that could change as the state's infection rate climbs.

After spending the summer working with parents, students, and teachers, the Monroe County Community School Corporation has come out with individual plans for its schools reopening in August.

Plans vary in how students exit and enter their respective schools, use the restrooms, and ensure space for physical distancing, among other things.

But all students and staff will be required to wear facemasks.

Students have the option of either online or in-person instruction for the academic year.

Online learning entails students working both on and offline for portions of their day. Once students are enrolled in the online academy, they must stay in that program for the entire semester. At the end of the semester, students will have the opportunity to switch to in person learning if they want.

In MCCSC's plan for Re-Entry And Recovery, it details various requirements and precautions that will be taken, and what an average day for a student receiving in-person instruction will look like.

This week, we're talking about school reentry with our guests.

You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at

Note-This week of our guests and hosts will participate remotely to avoid risk of spreading infection. Because of this we will not be able to take callers live on-air.


Jeanie Lindsay, IPB education reporter

Jennifer Smith-Margraf, ISTA vice president

Paul Farmer, teacher Bloomington High School North, MCEA President

Judy DeMuth, MCCSC superintendent

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