July 30, 2020

IPS Will Start School Year Virtually As COVID-19 Concerns Remain

The logo for Indianapolis Public Schools. - WFYI News

The logo for Indianapolis Public Schools.


Indianapolis Public Schools Board approved a school reopening plan Thursday that will ensure in-person classroom teaching for the state’s largest school district will not return until October, at the earliest.

Instead, starting Aug. 17, students will be taught virtually, with live and recorded lessons from their assigned teachers. Limited in-person options for homeless students and those with special needs will be also available.

The board voted unanimously to approve the remote-only option -- a reversal of an earlier plan to let families choose between in-class or remote learning. The increased COVID-19 infection rate for Marion County caused district leaders to rethink the health and safety of students, teachers and their families, as the Indianapolis mayor attempts to tamp down the virus with ongoing restrictions for businesses, activities and schools.

Earlier in the day, new public health orders were announced that would require to follow a specific health metric for when Marion County schools can offer in-person instruction,

At the IPS meeting, Superintendent Aleesia Johnson and board members remain concerned how the remote model will allow for student academic growth, enagementment and burden families already struggling through the pandemic.

“There is no easier answer. I will tell you: I feel the weight of this recommendation. I could not sleep last night cause I know what this means for so many of our families -- what they will be up against and challenged with over the next several months,” Johnson said after the vote. “But I told our teachers and principals, ‘We are going to need to work and teach like we’ve never done before. Because that is what our children and families deserve.’”

The remote plan is improved from what the district offered in the spring for at-home learning, when all schools in the state quickly shut down as COVID-19 spread. Most students will receive 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 activities, in an effort to meet state guidelines for e-learning.

All students will receive a device for the 2020-21 school year. Students in grades Pre-K–2 will receive an iPad; students in grades 3-12 will receive a Chromebook. A wireless Internet device will be given to families who do not have home access.

Teachers and families argued for and against the plan in public comments submitted to the board for consideration

Diane Arnold, board commissioner, said there were no easy answers for the district to keep families safe and offer education. No matter what, she said, some will be thankful and others angry about their decision.

“There is no guidance of educating students in a pandemic,” she said.

Results of an IPS staff survey released Thursday found 73 percent “trust IPS will do what needs to be done,” and 15 percent said, “there is nothing IPS could do to make them feel safe.” Sixty-nine percent of staff responded to the survey.

The approved plan includes:

  • The virtual model should begin no earlier than 9 a.m. for students. The teacher’s day will start and end at the regular contractual time. Virtual learning will be done through the Microsoft Teams platform.
  • The “Learning Hub” model provides a physical space at school buildings for students who qualify for homeless assistance, known as McKinney-Vento, and physical and cognitive special needs. Johnson said assistance for families who must work outside the home are “in development” with outside community partners.
  • Teachers can choose to teach remotely from their classroom or home.
  • A return to in-person classroom learning will happen no earlier than Oct. 2 and only if Marion County reports a 5 percent or lower COVID-19 positivity rate during a 14-day average.
  • The school board had already delayed the start of school from Aug. 5 to Aug. 17. The two-week delay will be made up by making fall break a virtual school week, and the first week of spring break a virtual school week.

Meals will be distributed to all students at certain locations in "to-go" style packs for multiple days. 

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


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