July 29, 2020

Indianapolis Public Schools Plans Virtual Learning For All Students, Metrics For Return To Classrooms



Indianapolis Public Schools announced today it plans to provide only remote learning to all students when classes resume on Aug. 17. 

The annoucement comes as some schools in Central Indiana reopen for in-person teaching and the district's teachers union deemed IPS schools unsafe for educators and students. 

The virtual plan will be recommended by Superintendent Aleesia Johnson to the IPS Board Of Commissioners at its Thursday meeting. 

If approved, in-person learning will not begin until at least October. Johnson said that will allow more time for the number of COVID-19 cases in Marion County to decrease.

“From the beginning, IPS administration has said we would remain flexible and respond to the changing data with an emphasis on the health and safety of our students as our top priority,” Johnson said.

IPS had planned to allow families to choose in-person or remote learning. Recently, the district delayed the opening of schools for two weeks.

Now, all students will receive a laptop or tablet and, if needed, an Internet connection device for their remote learning curriculm. In recent months IPS spent about $12 million to purchase devices for students. 

Most students will recieve live instruction from their assigned teacher through an online platform. Students will be expected to spend five to six hours per day in a combination of actitives to meet state guidelines for e-learning.  

Johnson said remote instruction will be more intentional than what was offered in the spring.

"We're going to have to make sure we're paying special attention to how relationships are built between the teacher and the family, how we're making sure there's communication happening regularly between teacher and family," she said.

In-person "learning hubs" will also be set up "select students," according to the statement. These hubs would be locations for students to visti each day where they can receive help with remote instruction "access their digital classwork."

Students who receive physical and mental interventions that they can’t otherwise get virtually, according to the district, will be elligible for these hubs.

Unsafe For Students & Staff

Earlier this week the Indianapolis Education Association, the union that represents IPS teachers, called on school board members to visit each building and consider if they would feel safe working in a classroom.

Ronald S. Swann, the IEA president, raised concerns with air circulation and other environmental issues with the school buildings. He questioned whether each building could be reopened and still follow the recommendations from the Marion County Health Department and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It is unsafe for our students and staff to resume in-class instruction," Swann said. 

Metrics For Return

Johnson will also ask the board to set specific metrics to guide when schools can reopen for in-person classes. Unless the county positive infection rate is 5 percent or less over a 14-day average, schools can not reopen.

Pike Township School Board set a simillar metric for its district last week.

State and local officials so far resisted offering such guidance despite pleas from district and teacher union leaders.

Last week Mayor Joe Hogsett ordered all Marion County schools to delay opening for in-person instruction until at least Aug. 5 due to an increase in the infection rate of the virus in the county.

Last Friday, the seven-day average positivity rate for Marion County was 10 percent, said Dr. Virginia Caine, director of Marion County Public Health Dept. The average rate of infection dropped to 4.2 percent on June 24 and began to rise after the July 4 holiday.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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