What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Why this Indianapolis school district will keep remote learning on the table this fall

Educators around the country are looking ahead to next fall, with most districts planning to bring students back in the building full-time. But many districts aren't ditching virtual learning entirely. Flora Reichanadter, the superintendent of schools at the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township in Indianapolis, plans to allow distance learning. She joins Amna Nawaz to discuss that choice.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, tomorrow will be the first day of June, which means the end of this unusual school year is also near.

    But educators are already looking ahead to next fall. Many districts are planning to bring students back in the building full-time, with limited use of virtual learning. That includes many cities, counties and entire states like New Jersey. We talked to the governor there about that last week.

    But there are also districts that feel virtual learning is a good option to keep this fall for some kids.

    Flora Reichanadter is the superintendent of schools at the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township in Indianapolis. It serves about 11,000 students, and it plans to keep distance learning as an option.

    I spoke with her about that last week.

    Superintendent Reichanadter, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thank you for making the time.

    So, while so much of the conversation around country is how to get all schools back open, how to get all kids back into classrooms in person, full-time, you know distance learning is going to be a part of your students' future, at least this fall.

    Why? Why did you make that decision?

  • Flora Reichanadter:

    Well we made that decision in the MSD of Pike Township because it is something that our parents wish to have, our families wish to have.

    And so we are, as we continue in the pandemic, trying to help provide that support for parents who are not quite ready to send their children to school in person.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you did conduct a survey, we should say, of thousands of families in your school district before you made that decision.

    What were you hearing from them?

  • Flora Reichanadter:

    We were hearing a variety of different things.

    We heard from some of our families that were more than eager to have students return to school in person. We have been in person for a good part of this semester, for those who have chosen that in person option. But we also have heard from families that they're not quite ready.

    It may be because a child has a health issue that they're still concerned about, or a family member in the home that has a health issue. And so simply by the number of who have requested, we decided it really was a viable option for at least this next school year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tell me a little bit about your school district. Describe for me who goes to school in your schools.

    And I think the survey showed it was about a third of those that you surveyed said they wanted some kind of distance learning option. Does everyone there have a specific health concern?

  • Flora Reichanadter:

    No, not really. Some of it also is just a fear.

    The MSD of Pike Township is in the northwest corner of Indianapolis. And we have a very diverse community. And if we look at even just statistics in Marion County of those that have been impacted disproportionately with COVID, it is a larger number of Black African-American families and our Latinx families.

    And so we know that there is somewhat of a fear of that in our community. And so, therefore,we have more families who are just not quite sure if they're ready to send their children to school, where there's a lot more people in a smaller space.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have heard from teachers this entire year how this system, managing both in person and online classes, has really taxed them. It's caused many of them to burn out.

    Is that any part of your concern moving forward?

  • Flora Reichanadter:

    Well, this year, we agree that it was very difficult, because not only did we have students that were learning in person, but we had students that were also joining the class remotely.

    And so teachers were indeed having to do a significant amount of extra planning and putting effort in. As we move forward into the new school year, we have a little bit different format for that. Our elementary will continue to be the same, which is, they have a virtual teacher the entire time, and school goes on just as if they were in person. They just happen to be remote.

    For our middle school and high school, we are doing it a little bit different this time.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Superintendent, there were concerns throughout this whole year that many kids who already lagged academically, in this virtual system fell, even further behind.

    How concerned are you that the longer you go on with any kind of virtual learning situation, that some of those kids will continue to fall further behind?

  • Flora Reichanadter:

    You know, that is something that we always worry about. And in this particular case, we're all living in a pandemic. And some of our children, they are surviving some very great challenges along the way.

    And so we look at it as, how do we take care of the lost opportunities? And so how do we increase those opportunities?

    And so we have been putting quite a few things in place to support that. We have a great summer camp that will begin on June 7. We will have after-school programming and additional support throughout the school year next year. We also have some summer adventure things that students can participate online with, because, indeed, it is something that we want to make sure that, as we continue to move forward, it isn't something that students are burdened with along the way.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Can I ask, have you also seen examples of students who have actually done better in a virtual environment than they did in the classroom?

  • Flora Reichanadter:

    Absolutely. Some of them did do better.

    And I think part of it was because it was an environment that worked well for them. And so some of our students that were — when they took — came in and took the state assessments. they actually did quite well.

    And so I think it's just something that's personalized by the needs of the students, and, also, it's just dependent on the kind of support they may be getting at home as well, especially for students who may not be as independent learners on their own.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I know you're just talking about the fall now, continuing to offer some kind of virtual learning, but do you think that the way we learn in this country has changed, that there will always be some more kind of virtual or distance learning option available for families?

  • Flora Reichanadter:

    You know what? I have said to my staff — and it's been our theme all year — we're reimagining education right now.

    And so, indeed, I think we're going to see some radical shifts along the way. I think there are so many things technology can offer that isn't just brick and mortars. And so we are definitely looking at a variety of different options as we continue even beyond the pandemic, because I think we will indeed see lots of changes in the education world.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Superintendent Flora Reichanadter of the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township in Indianapolis, thank you so much for your time and for joining us.

  • Flora Reichanadter:

    You're quite welcome.

Listen to this Segment