Indiana parents debate sending kindergartners to school

School Classroom

Indiana is one of 33 states that leave the kindergarten option to parents.

Posted: Jun 28, 2020 2:43 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, Indiana schools are making plans for students to return to classes as early as late July, but with questions remaining about how instruction will happen -- whether online, in person, or a mix of both -- some parents say they won’t send their kindergartners to school this fall.

“Deciding what to do about getting the kids back to classes – it’s a heavy load to carry at the moment,” said Angelica Knight, an Indianapolis parent to 6-year-old twins Hayleigh and Jeremiah.

She’s decided to hold off on kindergarten this fall and send them to straight to first grade next year.

“I want them to be able to actually walk into kindergarten and learn and play,” Knight said. “But with the virus, I just can’t let it happen for them right now.”

It’s a decision backed by an Indiana law that does not mandate kindergarten attendance – thus allowing children up to age 7 to stay home.

Indiana is one of 33 states that leave the kindergarten option to parents.

Although it’s still early to tell how many parents nationally are making the tough choice that Knight did, educators are sounding the alarm that young children could get behind on important learning skills by missing kindergarten.

School districts around Indiana have been surveying their students’ families to gauge who will come back, and what could make them change their minds.

Dave Marcotte, executive director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association, a group of 37 school districts in urban settings, said members expect from 5% to 35% of families not to return to schools this fall.

“This is very concerning,” Marcotte said, adding that lower enrollment could mean less funding to schools’ budgets.

To mitigate parent concerns about returning to the brick-and-mortar setting, all districts within the Urban Schools Association are also working to create an online instructional option to enroll and retain students of all ages, Marcotte said.

For Wayne Township Schools, that online choice “is going to be a must,” said Superintendent Jeff Butts.

A virtual program was already available for high schoolers, and beginning this fall, the same will be offered to students in all grades.

“It’s going to be a challenge with this pandemic, but we plan to have teachers who are doing in-person classes, and others who are strictly teaching remotely,” Butts said. “It helps add options for students and families, depending on what they want.”

Butts said he’s confident that most of his students will return.

Although Wayne Township projects out-of-district enrollments could drop by 20%, kindergarten registration numbers are up from last year, he said, and “a more relaxed feeling” people in the community have developed toward the virus in recent weeks is expected to positively affect feelings about returning to classes.

But even with online options, not all families are on board.

“At this point, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to educate my kids at home in the way my wife and I think is best,” said Ted Rosen, a dad of a soon-to-be kindergartner and three other children in Fort Wayne.

Rosen said his family will begin “complete and formal” homeschooling for at least the next academic year.

Making that choice wasn’t easy, he said, but “this is an option, and we think it’s the best, safest one we have right now.”

It could become a larger trend around the state.

“There is absolutely an increased interest in homeschooling right now,” said Tara Bentley, Executive Director of the Indiana Association of Home Educators. “I expect that as more parents understand what the return to classes will look like where they’re at, that interest will increase even more.”

Calls and emails from parents inquiring with her organization about homeschooling have doubled in recent weeks, Bentley said, including from parents of young kids who would start kindergarten this fall.

Although some of this interest has been sparked by the pandemic, Bently said the virus has been a tipping point for many parents who were also considering the option before.

“For parents of kindergarten students trying to make the decision, right now would be a good opportunity to get the basics of home-based education started,” she said.

Kids who should enter kindergarten for the first time could find themselves behind their peers for years to come if they skip out, said Shyrelle Eubanks, a senior policy analyst with the National Education Association.

Kindergarten is critical for literacy and numeracy skills, she said, especially for children who might not have had high quality early childhood education.

“We have many concerns about students returning to school – whether they will at all, and what it will be like when they get back,” Eubanks said. “So many districts are still developing their reopening plans, and we really hope high quality, early childhood options are offered so families are able to provide their kindergartners with the support they need.”

Dianna Wallace, executive director of the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children, said that kindergarten-age students need opportunities for social and emotional development, often aided through building relationships with teachers and peers.

Those skills can be learned in a classroom, but also at home and via e-learning, she said.

While the association hasn’t considered kindergarten enrollment to be an issue in Indiana in years past, Wallace acknowledged that the coronavirus has “added new challenges and uncertainties.”

Parents feeling comfortable with the schooling options, she said, should help ensure young students are getting quality education, regardless of the means.

“I wish I could say we have a crystal ball to know what’s going to happen with the reopening of school corporations in the fall,” Wallace said. “But with all the phenomenal work we’re seeing already, it looks like parents are going to have a lot to choose from.”

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 51612

Reported Deaths: 2760
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12074693
Lake5650249
Elkhart361860
Allen2952134
St. Joseph214869
Hamilton1708101
Cass16459
Hendricks1466100
Johnson1345118
Porter84038
Tippecanoe7799
Vanderburgh7686
Clark71144
Madison67864
LaPorte62328
Howard60758
Bartholomew60145
Kosciusko5824
Marshall5579
Noble52028
Boone49144
LaGrange48610
Jackson4783
Delaware47552
Hancock46836
Shelby45925
Floyd41444
Monroe34828
Morgan34531
Grant32226
Dubois3096
Montgomery29820
Henry29618
Clinton2903
White27610
Dearborn26523
Warrick26129
Vigo2588
Decatur25632
Lawrence25225
Harrison21822
Greene19632
Miami1942
Jennings17912
Putnam1738
DeKalb1694
Scott1659
Wayne1586
Daviess15117
Perry14910
Steuben1382
Orange13723
Jasper1362
Ripley1347
Franklin1288
Gibson1242
Wabash1163
Carroll1142
Starke1083
Whitley1076
Fayette1067
Newton10110
Huntington942
Jefferson872
Wells821
Randolph804
Fulton731
Jay720
Knox710
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Rush623
Posey610
Spencer571
Owen521
Benton510
Sullivan501
Adams491
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain362
Crawford330
Switzerland320
Tipton321
Parke270
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike120
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 65592

Reported Deaths: 3058
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin12035447
Cuyahoga9208399
Hamilton6950208
Lucas3007306
Marion274839
Montgomery251336
Summit2351209
Pickaway222741
Mahoning1948239
Butler186347
Columbiana138560
Stark1225116
Lorain115269
Trumbull105378
Warren100926
Clark81610
Delaware72415
Fairfield69217
Lake60923
Tuscarawas60910
Medina58932
Licking58312
Belmont57024
Miami51031
Portage50260
Clermont4977
Wood49451
Ashtabula44844
Geauga42843
Richland3786
Wayne37355
Allen36641
Greene3469
Mercer30210
Erie28622
Holmes2615
Darke25926
Huron2472
Madison2229
Ottawa19324
Sandusky16915
Athens1671
Ross1483
Washington14620
Coshocton1424
Putnam14215
Crawford1415
Hardin12312
Morrow1211
Jefferson1152
Auglaize1114
Muskingum1041
Union1021
Preble911
Clinton892
Monroe8917
Hancock861
Lawrence860
Guernsey813
Hocking819
Williams762
Shelby754
Logan711
Scioto710
Carroll703
Ashland682
Fulton670
Brown631
Wyandot635
Champaign551
Fayette550
Knox551
Defiance543
Highland531
Van Wert491
Perry461
Seneca412
Henry350
Paulding320
Jackson300
Pike290
Adams261
Vinton232
Gallia211
Harrison141
Noble140
Meigs130
Morgan110
Unassigned00
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