FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne's NBC) -- Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry called together the leaders of Allen County's school districts, Catholic schools, and four universities to discuss and brainstorm about the challenges they face to get kids safely back to class this fall in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Each one obviously has their own set of challenges, whether it's location, access to wifi, distancing problems, distribution of food," he says.
He says something they all agree on is that younger students need socialization in school in order to develop and thrive, while older students might better adjust to online learning.
"All of them are looking at a combination of virtual learning as well as in person learning, and ways of perhaps adjusting each to meet the needs of their systems," he says.
He says he is working with internet providers like Comcast to try to get nearly one-third of the students in Fort Wayne Community Schools and some rural East Allen County students connected to wifi.
"Also the school systems, collectively, are all now working together with the city to apply for some of the $61 million that the governor is releasing to the various school systems to increase connectivity and access," Henry says.
A spokesman for the state Department of Education says it's up to individual districts to decide how to implement safety guidelines.
But he says Indiana's Secretary of Education does not agree with Republican Congressman Jim Banks' bill that would withhold federal funding if schools don't have kids in class by September 8.
"Our local districts should not be bullied by the federal government. And in no way, and I know Secretary DeVos had made comments in regards that students need to be in the classroom almost at any cost, and that's not our attitude. Our attitude is that our kids need to be safe, our attitude is that our local districts do know what's best, our local districts are working with their local health departments to ensure what they do keeps their children safe," Adam Baker says.
Districts' back to class safety plans will need to be approved by their school boards before they can be implemented.