Educators continue to tout the value of classroom instruction, and data released last week by the Indiana Department of Education reiterates the point as schools wade into a second academic year surrounded by coronavirus concerns.
Among Hoosier students last year, according to the department, those who attended in-person lessons fared better in math and English than counterparts whose families chose remote school options. Data show that in-person students outpaced virtual learners on test scores in both subjects.
“Educators across the state continue to lead this important work, and yet in order to overcome impacts of the pandemic, schools cannot do this alone,” Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said in a statement. “This requires all of us working together – community partners, schools and families – to keep our focus on growth and improved outcomes for our Hoosier students.”
A communal approach to ensuring in-person learning is key. But only one of Allen County's four public school districts – Fort Wayne Community Schools – is opting to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance calling for universal mask wearing, regardless of vaccination status. Buy-in on preventive measures from families, teachers and staff at East Allen County Schools, Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools will be more important than ever.
Schools were largely successful in 2020-21, when masks were mandatory. Nearly 50% of Indiana schools had more than 90% of their students attending in-person, state officials said.
But things could change this year with mask-optional policies in place for about half of Allen County's roughly 54,000 public school students. Of those, about 29,000 are in sixth grade – around 12 years old, when children are first eligible to receive vaccines – or below.
More than 14,000 local students in grade 6 or below attend mask-optional schools.
Vaccination rates among eligible students at FWCS, where Superintendent Mark Daniel recently reimplemented mask rules amid rising numbers of COVID-19 infections, are woefully small. Just 5% of students in seventh, 11th and 12th grades are vaccinated. Only 4% of students in sixth, eighth, ninth and 10th grades have gotten shots.
A spokeswoman for NACS said the district is working to compile data on student vaccinations. Neither EACS nor SACS are tracking it.
Since July 1, more than 22% of the nearly 3,000 positive COVID-19 cases in Allen County have been in people 19 and younger, according to Allen County Department of Health statistics. Those patients make up the largest portion of positive cases over that period.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said the last week of July included nearly 72,000 COVID-19 cases in the U.S., up from about 39,000 the week before – the largest week-over-week percentage increase since the pandemic began, driven by the coronavirus delta variant.
More kids also are being hospitalized. The CDC reported 1,600 children were in hospitals the first week of August, a 27% jump from the week before. Indiana's coronavirus dashboard does not break hospitalizations down by age.
People vaccinated against COVID-19 can transmit the disease to others, leaving children – especially those too young to get the shots – vulnerable.
Keeping our children safe isn't optional. Those around them this school year should do what's right, even if it's not required.