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NPR. It is back to school season. Of course, this year it's more like back to school season. Yeah, back to maybe maybe season.
Yeah, a lot of schools are still wrestling with the question of just how to have school. Will it be online classes only? Will there be in-person teaching, some kind of mix? And it is a really emotional topic. Every state is handling it differently. There is a ton of pressure from every side.
In Indiana, for instance, state lawmakers really wanted to see kids back in school. Parents were saying, we need this, we need this so we can go back to work also to get the best education for our kids. Start getting back to normal a little bit.
So state lawmakers told the schools, hey, you need to open for in-person learning or otherwise you could see your state funding cut by 15 percent.
Dr. Flor Rinconada remembers this moment very well. She is a superintendent of schools in Indianapolis for Pike Township.
We are in a majority minority district.
We have 85 different languages spoken in our schools, 85 languages and 11000 kids in grades K through 12 the lot.
So Floor hears this mandate from the state Iroh in real life or else. But then also over the summer, Floras school district gets hit really hard by covid-19.
We saw a spike in positivity cases, which is why the Marion County Health Department closed bars recently.
Again, more than 10 percent of the residents in her area were testing positive for covid-19 and the parents were freaking out. So were the teachers like it's not safe for these kids to go back to school. You cannot put people's lives in jeopardy. Schools need to be online to complicate things.
Virtual learning is really tricky in Flora's district because more than half of her students do not have access to a computer.
For many of our families, the only device that they had available was a cell phone. And if you have multiple children using a single cell phone or to be honest, learning from a cell phone is not an ideal situation. This is the indicator from Planet Money.
I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. And I'm Cardiff Garcia. Dr Flora Reconnoitre found herself in a kind of Mission Impossible situation.
She had to find a way to educate thousands of students in a way that makes sure that they all have the best education and keep them safe and do all that with no money, actually less than no money. Remember, there's the 15 percent budget cut.
This kind of pressure would have crushed most people, but not Flora. Flora made a plan. Flora made up plans. So multiple plans, multiple plans. Spoiler alert. These plans did not include jumping out of an exploding helicopter. Unlike most Mission Impossible plans. That is true, although I would argue metaphorically they did. Yeah, sort of. Support for NPR and the following message come from TIAA committed to the idea that while most things in life run out from clean shirts in the morning to a favorite dessert at night, lifetime income in retirement shouldn't learn more.
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Dr. Flora Reconnoitre runs the Pike School District in Indianapolis. She is in charge of 11000 students and most of them do not have ready access to high speed Internet or devices that would make remote learning possible.
Also, if she opted for remote learning, it might mean losing 15 percent of her state funding, four point four million dollars, to be exact.
And so, of course, then you have lots of sleepless nights thinking. What am I going to do? What what has to go when you lose four point four million dollars? Not only that, Flora needed to spend money to get equipment and Internet access to thousands of students in case virtual learning needed to happen and also to get equipment for the school itself in case school opened back up and social distancing needed to happen before making any plans.
Flora needed to deal with the money situation. So the first thing she did was prepare for that 15 percent cut.
We will have to make some significant cuts by either increasing class sizes, reducing the number, of course, offerings like related arts and things like that, which would be so devastating because it's what makes a child well-rounded. But something has to give.
In the meantime, Flora wrangled a few hundred thousand dollars from the Keres Act and from a city fund, and she took out a loan.
She issued a school bond for five point three million dollars and Floras district was already in debt from a bond she'd issued a few years ago. So now her district is more than 15 million dollars in debt.
But some resending in Florida was still waiting to see what the state would say and what would happen with covid cases.
And 11000 students are counting on her for education, safety, meals, safe space.
So she developed her plans, plan A and a plan B and a plan C and a Plan D trying to work forward with what are all the what ifs plan A going back to school I orell classes in session but are in the seats and that meant making the physical schools as safe as possible for the kids coming back.
We have social distance markers, stickers that go on the floor. We've also invested in what we call our classroom barriers. They're actually Plexiglas and they're clear barriers that go on top of the desk.
So that is Plan A, so now we'll jump to plan D, the polar opposite of plan A, the other extreme that Flora had to prepare for 100 percent virtual learning. That means every kid needs a computer and wi fi. And remember, more than half of Florida's students do not have a computer and a lot of them do not have proper Wi-Fi, which meant that if the school shut down, these kids would have no way of attending class.
The district had already invested in chrome books that students in need could check out. They just made the check out longer and bought more chrome books.
At this time, every student who needed a Chromebook has one home.
Plan D plans.
B and C were hybrids. So students come in alternating days, week by last name or by classroom, and they go to class online the other days. So it's kind of both.
And then Flora waited with all of her plans at the ready to see what the state would say and what would happen with covid cases, that that has been a very emotional roller coaster in in just the last two weeks, the verdict.
But since seats go, so we're going to plan A and plan B also plan and plan B. Yes.
So here's what's going on. The elementary students are back full time.
All the kids, middle school and high school students have a choice for said covid cases are still a little high in the area, so students could opt for virtual learning for this semester. And about 40 percent of the students did opt for virtual learning. The other sixty percent are coming to school.
Unless, of course, there is an outbreak of covid. And of course, Flora has a plan for that, too.
Of course she has a plans again. She has a plans. Yes, she does. This episode of the indicator was produced by Britney Cronyn and Nick Fountain, The Indicators edited by Paddy Hirsch and is a production of NPR. I'm Guy Raz and on NPR's How I Built This, How a simple splash of color accidentally launched Sandy Chilliwack into a 40 year career as a designer, entrepreneur and creator of the now famous Chilliwack placemat subscriber. Listen now.