March 20, 2020

Superintendent gives advice for students, families to make the most of their time at home as they deal with the impact of the coronavirus

UPDATE (03/22/2020) — From Gina Fleming, superintendent: "In light of Governor Holcomb’s executive order, all school buildings in Indiana, including Catholic schools, are to remain closed until at least May 1. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis is committed to ensuring the safety of all young people we are called to serve, and this is one way we intend to do our part. The Office of Catholic Schools is meeting electronically with all school leaders on a weekly basis to provide updates, resources, and supports as needed. Additionally, Our pastors, school leaders, and teaching staff are working incredibly hard to provide excellent education and formation during this time despite the challenge of being remote. Archbishop Thompson and the Office of Catholic Schools are most grateful for their diligence, dedication, and skill. We continue to live out our mission of helping young people come to know, love, and serve God fully."

By John Shaughnessy

With Catholic schools in the archdiocese being closed at least until April 6 as a precaution against the coronavirus, The Criterion asked the superintendent of archdiocesan schools to share her advice to students, parents and families on making the most of this time academically and spiritually.

Gina Fleming was also asked to offer her thoughts on traveling during spring break—and on allaying the fears that children may have related to the coronavirus.

Fleming gives her thoughts and insights on all these areas in this conversation with The Criterion. As a mother of a Catholic school student, she also shares a chart that parents could use to provide structure to a child’s day to continue learning and growing while he or she is away from their school building. (Click here for more on creating a routine)

Here is the text of the conversation with Fleming:

Q. What advice would you give to parents for handling the concerns of children who are worried and even fearful because of all the dismal news surrounding the coronavirus?

A. “As with all things, young people are consistently watching us as their role models. If we remain calm [and] ensure that conversations on this matter are based on factual information and logical reasoning, our children will be much better informed and will be able to use this as a true learning opportunity. Reinforce the importance of hand‑washing and other hygiene practices as well as proper responses to coughing, sneezing and food preparation.”

Q. As a parent of a student in a Catholic school, what overall advice would you give to parents in helping their students stay focused academically during this time?

A. “Setting time frames and expectations up front is important. I suggest that if you feel overwhelmed, take time for prayer … and then consider writing a thank you note to the awesome teachers who care for and help your child every day. Also, do what you can to make this time fun and memorable while honoring the priorities of enhancing your child’s faith formation and education.

“For high school students, this is a great time to update resumès, explore career opportunities online, complete summer job applications, and apply for applicable scholarships.”

Q. E-learning will be one important avenue to try to keep students learning and focused on school in the coming weeks. Yet not every family in Catholic schools has access to a home computer for e-learning. What advice would you give to parents in this situation to help them keep their children engaged academically during this time?

A. “Our Catholic schools know their families very well. Those who have families for whom Internet access is limited, work packets have been created and made available. Additionally, several of our schools are allowing students to check out Chromebooks or iPads for use at home, while still others are leaving a section of the school open for students to come in and use the technology with parent supervision. In this case, school leaders are spreading students/families out to honor the social distancing protocols that have been enacted.”

Q. Many Catholic school students rely on the free-lunch program from the federal government for nutritious meals during their school day. Are there plans in place to help in that regard during this time?

A. “Several of our Catholic schools are providing meals either on site [again honoring the social distancing protocols] or providing ‘grab and go’ services. We encourage families to contact their school to know what options are available.”

Q. The closing of schools occurs during the season of Lent, extending at least until the beginning of Holy Week. Any advice for helping students, staff and parents to stay focused on their faith during this time?

A. “In some ways, this unique situation may be viewed as a gift; in others, a challenge. Accept the challenge through prayer intentions for those who are ill and/or suffering, as well as in gratitude for health care professionals.

“This is also a wonderful time for each of us to review our Church’s social justice teachings. What can we do in times like these to care for the most vulnerable? To care for God’s creation? To participate in society while remaining cognizant of the health risks for many?

“To learn more about some answers to these questions, go to”

Q. Many families already have plans to travel for spring break during this time. Do you have any advice for families about minimizing their risks in relation to traveling during this time?

A. “Continue to follow the guidelines provided by your local board of health as well as those provided by Indiana and U.S. health professionals.”

Q. Any other questions that need to be addressed that would be helpful to students and parents?

A. “On behalf of Archbishop [Charles C.] Thompson, the Office of Catholic Schools and all of our school leaders, we thank all of our parents and guardians for their patience, their partnership and their flexibility during this unique situation. Rob Bridges, president at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, recently shared with his community the written commentary from Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, in response to the 1849 cholera epidemic in LeMans, France:

Prayer is like a health zone which we must set up around our homes and schools. Moreover, it can heal souls. It is this spirit of prayer which gives me confidence that the plague will spare Holy Cross, which is so visibly under the protection of Divine Providence. Put your confidence in prayer, therefore, but at the same time, do not neglect the precautions recommended by doctors and other officials.

“Let us continue to trust in the Lord always and do our part to aid in the health and safety of the common good.” †

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