U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., has a message for Hoosier students, parents and teachers concerned about returning to classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic: "Take a little risk."
Speaking Tuesday on the Fox Business channel, the first-term lawmaker condemned the plans of some school districts that are beginning the school year with online classes because Braun contends students learn best through in-person instruction.
"That's taking kind of a stick your head in the sand approach, try nothing, hunker down. That's not going to work," Braun said. "Be safe, take a little risk, address this disease head-on. Don't hunker down."
Braun said local school leaders should follow the examples of Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame, which both are planning to reopen for in-person classes with protections aimed at minimizing the potential spread of COVID-19.
"We in Indiana, as reflected in Notre Dame and Purdue, are enterprisers. We're not going to err on the side of taking the bureaucratic approach, the easy shutdown, the one-size-fits-all that's kind of dominated the whole approach on the disease to date," Braun said.
"Thank goodness we have a guy like (Purdue President) Mitch Daniels who never looked at the status quo or the conventional as being the way to do it. He, and Notre Dame following suit, are going to set the stage for what we need to do, and that is try, in a mitigated way, to get back to where you're most effective teaching kids — whether it's in elementary school, secondary, or postsecondary."
Some Region school corporations, including the Lake Central School Corp., are planning to reopen this month for in-person instruction, while offering wary students and parents the option to instead attend classes online.
At the same time, other Northwest Indiana school districts, including the Gary Community School Corp., Michigan City Area Schools and Portage Township Schools, are reopening solely with virtual learning to reduce the chances of COVID-19 infection.
Braun, who served on a southern Indiana school board between 2004 and 2014, said he's grateful there are currently no federal or state mandates dictating whether and how schools should reopen, since he believes those decisions should be made by local leaders.
But he also said, as a businessman, that taking risks is part of life, and Hoosiers need to be willing to embrace a little risk for the incalculable benefit of students learning from teachers in physical classrooms.
"Being a Main Street entrepreneur, that's based upon making practical solutions," Braun said. "The way forward is to do both: respect the disease; take a little mitigated risk."