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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

2020 Year in Review: Families spent 2020 navigating abrupt changes in education

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Many of the families whose children attend K-12 schools in Marion County had only a little more than 12 hours of formal notice that schools would begin closing because of COVID-19.

Mayor Joe Hogsett announced March 12 all public schools would be closed the next day. That included all 11 school districts — which serve about 140,000 students — and public charter schools. The county asked all other schools to be closed by the next Monday.

It was the kind of sudden and abrasive change that become common in March and April. It wasn’t until the next day, March 13, that the state health department confirmed a second COVID-19 case in Marion County.

Students and families scrambled to figure out plans while school districts turned their focus to e-learning.

“Our balance is a little askew at this point,” Shani Warren, whose son was in sixth grade, told the Recorder a few days after the announcement. Warren was also taking care of her nephew during the day while his mother was at work. “Now we’re having to make sure that we are adjusting the schedule so that our son can do his e-learning as well as being able to kind of balance the children. This is a challenge.”

Colleges and universities closed residential housing to most students and were in the process of figuring out plans for commencement ceremonies. There were many unknowns for students, except that, in most cases, they couldn’t be on campus.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen now,” Butler University student Chinyelu Mwaafrika told the Recorder. “I don’t know what comes next in terms of me and my education.”

One of the most immediate concerns was how students would handle a shift to e-learning, especially considering how many students didn’t have reliable internet access or a device they could use for virtual learning.

School employees gathered the technology they had available — mostly Chromebooks and iPads — and districts ordered Wi-Fi hotspots for families.

Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, only had one Chromebook for every three students when schools went virtual. Resources such as the IPS Education Equity Fund and e-learning sites have helped fill the gaps, and IPS has since gotten to a one-to-one ratio for devices and students.

“A number of our students will experience the brunt of this crisis because of the ZIP code they happen to live in,” IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said in April, “because they happen to live in a food desert, because they happen to live in a place where there is inequitable access to the internet, because they happen to live in a place where there is housing instability or a lack of quick and easy access to health care.”

When schools returned to in-person learning in October, parents had the option to keep student home for e-learning, and the transition was slow and limited. Even then, it seemed likely there would be another return to virtual learning, which is what happened in mid-November.

Marion County students are now in a similar place as they were when this started in March. The county health department has said students can start returning to in-person learning as early as Jan. 4, but district officials are hesitant to go back that soon.

Families are back in the familiar spot of waiting for answers.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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