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IPS superintendent discusses equity, COVID-19 during ‘State of the District’

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Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson reiterated the district’s promises to students and families during the 2020 “State of the District” on Oct. 28.

Much of Johnson’s virtual address dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-K through 6th grade students just returned to full-time in-person learning Oct. 19, which is the same day seventh through 12th graders began going back to school on a hybrid model.

Along with the challenges of figuring how and when to let students return to classrooms, Johnson highlighted the district’s effort to distribute meals during the spring and summer, as well as the recent opening of learning hubs and the distribution of internet hotspots and devices.

When district leaders updated the school board on finances during a meeting in August, they said the district had spent $27 million since March on expenses related to COVID-19.

“Keeping promises isn’t always easy,” Johnson said. “It usually requires a lot of work. It sometimes requires fighting a hard fight.”

Johnson noted the pandemic — and consequent economic fallout — has had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino students. African Americans currently make up 31% of deaths in Marion County, which is slightly higher than their share of the county population. (Race is unknown for 8% of deaths.)

“It took centuries to build a system — not just in our schools, but in real estate practices, tax codes, falsely constructed social hierarchies and more — that baked inequities in deep,” Johnson said. “… It’s going to take time to undo what should never have been done.”

Johnson has made racial equity a large focus for the district since she was appointed as the superintendent in 2019.

The school board passed the Racial Equity Mindset, Commitment & Action policy in June, which included commitments to offer students culturally relevant curriculum and give staff access to professional learning experiences about racial equity. The district will also have its third racial equity summit in the summer of 2021.

Johnson said the policy can either be a “shiny piece of paper” that amounts to empty words, or it can be an “electric shock.”

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

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