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IPS planning to delay in-person class until October

If the recommendation is approved by the board, the 2020-21 school year will begin with 100 percent remote learning when school starts Aug. 17.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Public Schools announced Wednesday, it plans to delay in-person learning and provide remote-only learning when classes resume Aug. 17. The plan, recommended by Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, still needs board approval at Thursday's meeting, before it's finalized.

UPDATE: IPS approved the plan for remote learning through at least Oct. 2 at a meeting Thursday.

"I had, along with my team, substantial concerns about the safety of returning to school in person given the continued elevated spread of COVID-19 across the Marion County community and wanted to be sure that first and foremost we're keeping the safety of our students, staff and families at the top of our decision making," Johnson said during a virtual news conference Wednesday.

The plan to go to all virtual learning is something the IPS superintendent acknowledges isn't ideal. But she says the health risk from the coronavirus right now in Marion County is still too great.

"It is frustrating, certainly, that we're not able at this point to have the confidence that we can send students and safe into the safest environment that we could have," Johnson said.

For now, at least through early October, students will learn from home. Over the next two weeks, kindergartners through second graders will receive iPads. Third grade and up will get Chromebooks. And families without internet access will get MiFi devices.

Unlike the spring, Johnson says there will be more structure for virtual learning. The school day will likely start later. Teachers will focus on more rigorous content and they'll go back to a traditional grading system. Teachers can choose to work from home or work out of their classroom. And kids, Johnson says, will have more live interaction to promote better learning.

"Remote learning doesn't mean that a student or a family should feel like they're on a remote island by themselves not able to be connected with and engaged with their fellow peers and students as well as their teacher," Johnson said.

IPS does plan to set up in-person "learning hubs" to supplement remote learning and help the most vulnerable students: kids with physical or mental limitations and those who are homeless. The district is still deciding where the hubs will be located and how many students they'll accept in each facility. The hubs will likely be located near IndyGo bus lines, to help families with transportation.

Reopening all classrooms, Johnson says, will depend on the virus and its spread.

"The goal is still to get our kids back in person as soon as we can, but we have to do it in a way that feels safe," Johnson said.

IPS said that threshold will likely mean 14 straight days with a COVID-19 positivity rate of 5 percent or less in Marion County. Right now, Marion County is still above 8 percent.