INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Children without reliable access to WiFi and “e-learning” devices could face greater educational disruption during extended school closures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Thursday all public schools would remain closed until May 1 at the earliest.
It would be a “miracle” if students returned to classrooms before the end of the academic year, he said.
However, approximately half of Indiana public school districts do not have enough e-learning devices for every student to take one home, according to Jennifer McCormick, the state’s superintendent of public instruction.
She vowed to increase student access to devices optimal for remote learning, including laptops and tablets, following the governor’s announcement Thursday at the Indiana Statehouse.
“Schools are diligently working on how to get devices home [with children], other than a phone,” McCormick said. “It’s difficult to run e-learning on a single phone, so we’re looking at access. We’re working with partners. We’ve sent out free resources. There is a gap [in device access] and I’m not going to pretend that there’s not one.”
Device access alone does not guarantee effective remote learning.
April Bronner, a Summitville resident, said her children have e-learning devices. They can’t do schoolwork at home because Bronner, who receives disability benefits, cannot afford home Internet service.
She drives the 16-year-old twins to a relative’s home to complete e-learning assignments from Madison-Grant High School.
“With this virus getting worse and everything, [I’m] trying to keep them from going out,” Bronner told News 8. “The school expects me to go sit in the parking lot for two or three hours for them to do their e-learning. I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
Her son and daughter often find it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork at the relative’s home because “there are a lot of kids there and it’s loud,” she added.
Bronner called for schools to provide low-income families with free WiFi during the extended closures.
Public education should not be a luxury during a public health crisis, she said.
Chavon Vann, an Indianapolis resident, worried e-learning wouldn’t be an adequate replacement for classroom teaching, especially after the state approved shortening the academic calendar by 20 instructional days.
Her eldest son is a student at Kentucky State University; her younger son, daughter and stepson are enrolled in Indianapolis schools.
All four are finishing the semester on e-learning devices at home.
“If you just throw them in the next grade, they’re not going to be ready,” Vann told News 8. “It’s crazy. It’s a big burden on me.”
Rose-Hulman students are available Sunday through Thursday from 7 to 10 p.m. to help children remotely with math and science homework. The free homework hotline can be reached at 877-275-7673.