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Statewide mask mandate impacts teachers, students planning for start of school year

The governor's mandate puts the weight of the state behind local school rules and erases any doubts and ensures most everyone in every school will wear a mask.

LEBANON, Ind — Governor Eric Holcomb's decision to make masks mandatory for Hoosiers includes school children and their teachers.

Many Indiana schools already have boxes full of face masks and a requirement that students and workers wear them. The governor's mandate puts the weight of the state behind local school rules and erases any doubts and ensures most everyone in every school will wear a mask.

"We will require masks for third graders and up, faculty and staff," Holcomb said.

The governor said he will not dictate when schools open. That's a local decision. Although the  Republican governor said he respects the decision of some schools to reopen with only virtual learning, he said, "it is important, so important for school districts that choose virtual learning to consider the impact on students and families."

Inside Lebanon Middle School, the principal and teachers were rearranging desks to make more room for students.

Tuesday, the Boone County school district pushed back the start date one week to August 13.

"By pushing it back a week, we ensure we have the smoothest start we can," said school spokesperson Jen Todderud.

The school district also announced that middle and high school students will attend school two days a week and learn from home the other three.

So there will be half as many children in classrooms and hallways, providing more room for social distancing.

Grade school children will attend classes all five days. Younger kids stay in the same room, don't switch classes or teachers or intermingle in the hallways.

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The governor's staff explained a list of precautions many schools should consider to protect students and teachers. In addition to masks, they recommend suspending special activities, designating one-way hallways to keep student moving and keeping kids in smaller groups called "pods." That's so if one tests positive for COVID-19, only a small number students, not the entire class, would have to be quarantined.

Many schools are already implementing those and other precautions. But as the pandemic continues to change schools will have to change their plans to keep kids safe.