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Friday, January 15, 2021

Thousands of Black no shows on IPS’ first day. Why?

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Again, another public embarrassment as thousands of Indianapolis parents demonstrated their lack of parental responsibility.

Last week, between one-sixth to one-fifth of Indianapolis Public School (IPS) students didn’t show up for class on the first day of school. IPS estimates nearly 8,700 students were MIA on opening day.

IPS’ enrollment projections for this new school year are somewhat rosy. School officials estimate an enrollment gain of some 1,576 students, which is something that has about as much chance happening as Sarah Palin endorsing President Barack Obama’s health care plan.

IPS enrollment is expected to decline – again. But even with the expected decline, the hard fact is that thousands of IPS students weren’t in their classrooms on day one.

IPS and the United Way thought a public relations campaign would reverse the trend over the past few years of thousands of IPS students not showing up for the start of classes. But despite over 1,000 public service announcements on Indianapolis’ Black-formatted radio stations, plus television commercials and billboards in the hood, thousands of students were IPS no-shows.

In fairness, the results seem to have been better in a neighborhood targeted by the United Way for special efforts to curb the opening day no shows. That neighborhood was Martindale-Brightwood. And on opening day, 88.3 percent of the students in the neighborhood’s school 51 showed up for classes. A great showing!

IPS couldn’t provide me detailed first day attendance data for their middle and high schools, where I heard that first day attendance figures were dismal.

But the data they did provide, for IPS’ elementary schools, wasn’t encouraging.

Fifteen elementary schools had 20 percent or more of their projected enrollment absent on day one. None of the schools were in predominantly white areas. Most were on the north, far east and far west sides of the city.

Some of the absentee schools were in some of the city’s best-organized neighborhoods. Like School 43 in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood and School 60 in Mapleton-Fall Creek. Even IPS’ vaunted Key Learning Center on White River Parkway had 28.6 percent of their projected students as no shows on opening day.

Since 77.7 percent of the students at those 15 worst performing opening day attendance schools were Black, it’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of those not showing up for the first day of school came from our African-American community.

Now we could speculate till hell freezes over as to why. But the fact is that we don’t know why. And we need to know the facts, now!

The United Way, in cooperation with foundations like the Annie E. Casey Foundation and others should engage a major academy study, maybe handled by the University of Indianapolis’ Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL).

They can randomly interview, without the threat of sanctions or punishment, several hundred parents whose children were first day no shows to find out the reasons why.

Could they not afford uniforms and school supplies in this Great Recession?

Did they not really know when school starts?

Were there issues related to a lack of health care (immunizations)?

Or deeper reasons?

We must also have a serious discussion of when school should start in Indianapolis. Many believe schools start far too early. They ask, “Why can’t school start after Labor Day, like it used to?”

I researched when school starts in America’s 25 largest cities, of which Indianapolis ranks No. 13.

What I learned is that today in America, in our major cities, starting school after Labor Day is not the norm; it is increasingly the exception.

Of America’s 25 largest cities, only eight start school after Labor Day; including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Boston.

With only 32 percent of the nation’s large cities starting school after Labor Day that means the majority, 68 percent, start before Labor Day.

Significantly, only one other city – Memphis – started their schools the same week as IPS and most township districts.

Two other cities, San Jose and Denver, start this week (August 17).

The largest group, 10 cities, or 40 percent, won’t start school until this coming week (August 24). Five of those cities are in Texas which uniformly starts school on the same day.

If Texas can do that, why can’t Indiana? Why can’t Indiana at least allow, in a county, every school – public, charter and private – to begin classes on the same day!

Of the 25 top cities, only two don’t have “unified” or citywide school systems. Indianapolis, of course, is one. The other is Phoenix, which like Indy has 11 public school districts. Those districts start of school ranged from July 27 to August 17; similar to the three-week rollout other schools start.

Since most top cities start school before Labor Day, (many the last week of August) why can’t Indianapolis start school in late August?

That’s late enough in the summer not to conflict with family reunions and the State Fair. And still plenty of time to fit a 180 day instructional calendar before late June.

Maybe one way for IPS to end the high first day absentee is to copy an idea I saw when I checked out Fort Worth’s school system. There they celebrate opening day of school in what they call “First Day of School Celebrations.”

In the district’s schools, coffee and snacks are provided throughout the day. Schools hand out important information. Last year 25,000 Fort Worth parents showed up to ask questions; meet their children’s teacher and principal and even school administrators who were present at every school.

Fort Worth School Superintendent Dr. Melody Johnson says of First Day of School Celebrations, “Research shows parental involvement is a major factor in students’ success. Students need to know, even on that very first day of school, that they are strongly supported and their education is top priority.”

Fort Worth’s schools have 78,000 students; two and a half times more than IPS. The district is heavily Hispanic at 58 percent, compared to IPS’ 58 percent African-American.

Fort Worth’s idea is something that IPS needs to seriously examine. Just as our community must seriously examine why thousands of parents couldn’t get their kids to school on Day One!

See ‘ya next week!

Amos Brown’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. You can contact him at (317) 221-0915.

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