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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Double-edged sword: back to school or continue e-learning?

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Shani Warren and her husband made the decision to have their son — a soon-to-be seventh grader in the Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Lawrence Township — continue e-learning for the time being. 

Warren, a business owner, can work from home, and her husband’s job has been flexible with his schedule, as well, she said. 

For many parents in Indianapolis, however, as the city reopens and parents return to work, e-learning may be difficult to do successfully — especially if they have younger students. In addition, some districts are continuing an all-virtual school model, leaving some parents to figure out how best to balance e-learning and work.  

“I’ve been really blessed, to be honest,” Warren said. “… I do feel very sorry for those who don’t have the same level of flexibility. I know it’s very difficult.” 

Warren speaks from experience. Last semester, she and her husband watched over her nephew during the e-learning period while her sister worked.  

Indianapolis is currently in stage 4.5 of reopening, meaning restaurants, bars, gyms, entertainment venues and shopping malls are all open, some at limited capacity. Many businesses and offices are open again, leaving many parents having to choose between sending their child back to school — and risk catching COVID-19 — or staying home with their child to continue e-learning.  

Erin Macey, senior policy analyst at Indiana Institute for Working Families, said parents — or anyone, for that matter — should be aware of their rights and company policies before having conversations with their employer about possible paid leave.  

“Go into that conversation knowing whether or not you’re covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Macey said. “Paid sick leave and caregiver leave is available to some workers in Indiana, and you can get up to 12 weeks if your child’s school is closed.”  

According to the Department of Labor, workers may qualify for funds for paid sick leave — possibly up to 80 hours of paid sick leave to employees — if the worker or someone the employer is caring for is subject to quarantine, they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, if their child is out of school or they are unable to access child care due to the pandemic. 

Macey noted, however, businesses with less than 50 employees may not have to provide paid leave. 

Many community members fear the ongoing pandemic, along with more parents returning to work, will lead to a child care crisis if enough facilities aren’t open. For the safety of children and families, many child care facilities closed down temporarily. Rep. André Carson co-sponsored the Child Care is Essential Act which will allocate $50 billion to award grants to child care providers to reopen safely and keep their daycares open. 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, children in Indiana and across America are at risk of falling behind as child care centers struggle to stay open,” Carson said in a statement. “We are experiencing a child care crisis, where more and more parents are unable to provide children with the care and enrichment they need, and child care workers suffer loss of wages and unsafe working conditions. Nowhere is this crisis felt more than in Black and Brown communities, which are experiencing a disproportionate economic turmoil.” 

Beyond child care needs, many parents and schools are grappling with what re-opening will look like — specifically, testing students and staff and assisting children who may need extra help with school work.  

Some schools are already experiencing a likely scenario many will face with in-person learning. A middle school in Greenfield and a school in Avon had positive COVID-19 cases in the first days of reopening. 

For Marion County school districts that return to in-person learning, Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine said testing will be available for all schools with students and staff returning to classrooms. Caine also said the wait time for results will be shorter and the tests will be free of charge. 

To assist parents who need extra help for their students while Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) does e-learning until at least October, learning hubs will be available for students.  

“Please know the decision to recommend full remote learning for all students for the beginning of the school year was incredibly difficult to make, given what we know is at stake for our students,” IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said in a statement. “Ultimately, we believe this decision is in the best interest of our students, staff and families.” 

For parents who will need time off to care for their families, Macey recommends getting everything in writing and knowing your rights as a worker. 

“It’s very helpful to get everything in writing, or to follow up through email or written form document that you’ve made a request,” Macey said. “There are some really great hotlines, like Better Balance, which is a legal aid hotline focused on this kind of paid and unpaid leave. … Contacting employment labor attorneys may be another option.”  

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper. 

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