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INDIANAPOLIS — A survey of parents whose students are already enrolled in or had been enrolled in virtual learning at Indianapolis Public Schools found that 60% of them want a virtual option to continue next school year.

Thursday, the IPS school board approved a five-year agreement with Phalen Leadership Academy and Paramount Schools of Excellence to do exactly that.

“Virtual education is not for everybody,” Paramount Schools of Excellence CEO Tommy Reddick said. “Having a teacher in a classroom, in controlled environment, in a regular brick and mortar school is a wonderful thing and a beautiful option for families, and I think I would always tell families that we want to exercise that option first.”

Educators and families alike at IPS say having virtual instruction as an option at least is important for their academic success and safety moving forward.

“I think we’re still dealing with a pandemic, where you have some families who feel like it might not be completely safe to head back into a school environment,” Reddick said. “And I know when you’re talking about vaccinations, we’re just getting to the point of being able to vaccinate our children, which is also a politically contentious issue right now.

“Whether or not it’s safe or good is really both been highly politicized and is a concern for every parent and a decision they need to make for themselves, like education practices.”

Reddick says the partnership with IPS will prove to be beneficial for all parties involved. Each can play off the other’s strengths. 

“In the innovation language that’s currently written right now, that means that there’s a lot of sharing that goes on between the data of the student performance, some fiscal. Agency by IPS as far as being a physical pass through for state funding for those students, we definitely want this to happen,” Reddick said. “You know, we see this as a healthy compromise between two organizations with a like-minded mission for how we get to a solution for students and improve educational outcomes.”

It was a great solution for Latoya Tahirou’s family. Her three children attend IPS. She says the virtual education her children received at the hands of the pandemic helped bring out the best in them. 

“It showed them how to rely on themselves, how to be responsible for their own assignments and get them turned in,” Tahirou said. “It’s very important that parents have different options, because different things work for different people for different reasons. So, I think it’s very important we have this option available for parents and children.”

Many fear the opposite to be true, believing that virtual learning is too taxing on parents and teachers and not engaging enough for students. That’s is why next year, it’ll be entirely up to parents to decide. 

“The parent really does have to be involved in the process and want to engage in that process so their child can be successful. As much as we would see a teacher in a classroom, structure the environment and make sure the students are working hard and making sure that they’re focused and on task. That becomes the role of the parent in a virtual setting,” Reddick said. “They don’t have to be the educational expert. They need to be the expert facilitator, to make sure things are happening. We provide the expertise.”

The district says the innovation partnership agreement is five years long and can be terminated or extended down the road. 

653 students were currently enrolled in IPS’ virtual option at the end of the ’21 school year. Parents can decide to pull their children from virtual learning if it isn’t working for them, but they do so at the risk of losing their virtual seat if they should change their mind again.