What IPS parents need to know about remote learning options

Joicki Floyd starts her day for Weequahic High School remotely and also chats with her daughter Donnell as she also prepares for her own remote learning from their home in Newark on Wednesday morning, Mar. 3, 2021.
Indianapolis Public Schools parents who want their children to learn remotely will have to choose between two virtual school options this 21-22 school year. A mother and daughter start their day talking to one another at their home in Newark, N.J. on Mar. 3, 2021. (Erica Seryhm Lee / Chalkbeat)

Are you an IPS parent who has signed your child up for virtual school? Are you thinking about signing your child up? What are you concerned about? We want to hear from you. Write awashington@chalkbeat.org.

Indianapolis Public Schools students who want to learn remotely this school year will need to give up their in-person IPS seat and register at one of two virtual charter schools.

The two online charter schools are Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy and Paramount Online Academy. Phalen is open to students in grades K-12 and Paramount is open to students in grades K-8. While IPS and Paramount start on Monday, Aug. 2, Phalen will start Thursday, Aug. 12. 

In May, IPS board members approved two virtual charter school partnerships that would move remote IPS students out of their home school and into a virtual charter for the school year. The partnerships have joined the district as innovation schools, which means they are operated independently with oversight and additional funding from IPS. 

Schools across the country have grappled with whether to provide a remote option to students and how to do it. IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said in May that it was “incredibly challenging and not sustainable long term” for district teachers to instruct virtual and in-person students at the same time.

“We need to make sure we have an option that does not put that lift on our individual classroom teachers but could still respond to our families who want that virtual option in the future,” Johnson said. 

Here’s what we know so far about IPS virtual school options: 

What students are eligible to apply?

Both Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy and Paramount Online Academy are open to students from anywhere in Indiana. 

Enroll for virtual school at Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy here. Enroll for virtual school at Paramount Online Academy here

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When is the deadline for applying? 

There is no deadline to sign up for either Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy or Paramount Online Academy. Students can apply to transfer at any time. 

Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy will offer learning coach and parent orientations the week of Aug. 6-11. Tora Townsend is the founding school leader at the one-year-old PLA virtual school. Paramount will have a back-to-school information session on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Brandalyn Hayes is the school director for the new Paramount Online Academy. 

How many seats are available? 

Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy has 2,000 seats for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and 500 seats for high school students. As of July, three-quarters of its 211 statewide students come from IPS, according to Earl Martin Phalen, the chief executive officer of Phalen Leadership Academies.

Paramount Online Academy has space for a total of 558 elementary and middle school students. As of mid-July, nearly 60 IPS students have signed up for this virtual school option. About 100 other students come from various districts and charter school networks. 

What does remote learning at these schools look like? 

Students will have live instruction daily with teachers at both schools with cameras and mics on. Both school partners are promising small class ratios, typically 25 students to one teacher

Are digital devices provided?

Yes, Chromebooks or tablets will be provided.

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How good are these schools academically compared to the school district? 

At Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy, 22.5% of students passed both English and math ILEARN tests, compared to just 10% of IPS third through eighth-graders. This school year will be the first for Paramount Online Academy, but for the three in-person schools operated by Paramount Schools of Excellence — Englewood, Brookside, and Cottage Home — students passing rates for math and English exceed those of IPS.  Two of the schools have higher passing rates than the statewide average. At Brookside, 36.7% of students passed both tests, while at Cottage Home, 32.4% passed both. 

Tommy Reddicks, the chief executive officer for Paramount Schools of Excellence, said Paramount has a tutoring program and will offer monthly parent training seminars. Online students can participate in extracurricular activities on campuses as well as sports and field trips, according to the IPS website. 

Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy will have small-group rotations across virtual classrooms and will use a learning program called Edgenuity to help students master academic concepts at their own comfortable speed. Students will receive small-group tutoring where three to five students will work on the same skill, practice the skill throughout the week, and then get assessed on it on Friday, according to Phalen.

“If they master it, then they go on to a new skill,” Phalen said. “If they haven’t mastered it, we continue to teach that.” 

Phalen students will still be able to participate in their home school sports teams and clubs, if they choose to. 

Both schools will have a family call center open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for support with online learning and technology.

Can families switch from remote learning to in-person learning later on? 

Yes, families can switch from remote learning to in-person learning, but only if the neighborhood or choice school has enough room for them to enroll.

According to the IPS website, if a family wants to return to in-person learning, they must re-enroll at the neighborhood school or through Enroll Indy.

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