Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that all schools will remain closed through May 1 in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The district was originally scheduled to remain closed through the end of March.
The announcement follows an order from Gov. Gavin Newsom to “stay at home” declared last Thursday and a recommendation from Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo to close public schools through May 5. Standardized testing has also been suspended statewide.
In a live-stream announcement Monday morning, Beutner addressed the challenges facing LAUSD, like digital disadvantages, student hunger and teacher pay.
“I wish I could tell you it will all be back to normal sometime soon but it does not look like that will be the case,” Beutner said. “On Friday, March 13, which seems like a long, long time ago now, every student was sent home with a learning plan for the next two weeks. High tech, low tech or a combination of both.”
Students without access to computers or the internet were provided with homework packets and textbooks. Other students have maintained contact with teachers via Google classroom or Zoom.
However, Beutner revealed that last week’s virtual education allowed only half of the district’s nearly 600,000 students to learn at the same pace as in a traditional classroom environment. A quarter of the students were “doing okay” and the final quarter did not receive adequate learning opportunities.
To ensure all students are provided equal learning opportunities, a $100 million emergency investment was authorized by LAUSD to provide devices and wireless connections to students in need.
“This is an unprecedented commitment, but a necessary one,” said Betuner. “Many of our families are struggling to make ends meet and cannot afford to do this on their own.”
Verizon telecommunications has partnered with LAUSD to provide free wireless internet access for any student in need, Beutner said. The distribution of devices will start with high school students and trickle down to elementary school students as funding allows.
The superintendent also announced LA Students Most in Need, a website collecting monetary donations to “provide meals and urgently needed supplies” to help students to continue learning.
Perhaps the most unique method of individual learning is the utilization of local broadcast networks. Three Local Public Media Channels – PBS SoCal, KCET and KLCS-TV – have partnered with LAUSD to broadcast educational content for students Pre-K through 12th grade.
“As education is one of our organization’s highest priorities, we want to harness the power of public media in assisting all students in Southern California,” said Andrew Russel, President and CEO of KCET and PBS SoCal. “As cornerstone institutions in our community, PBS SoCal and KCET have a mission to connect communities so we’re already talking to stations throughout the state, and even across the country, to follow our model.”
In the last two-weeks of online learning, more than 100,000 people have tuned in to PBS programming each day, Beutner said in the press conference.
But there are still remote learning opportunities. Dr. John Purcell teaches first grade at 32nd Street School, the magnet school across from USC’s campus. He said that he expected the extended school closure due to the ongoing safety procedures issued by both the city mayor and state governor.
For Dr. Purcell, he prefers teaching in a classroom dynamic. “The timing of this [situation] is not ideal, but it is better [than] if it was to happen in the fall [of the school year],” he said, adding that it would have been harder for young kids to learn like this in the beginning whereas now, they already made progress in their curriculums.
LAUSD is committed to caring for its student’s education and health for the duration of the closure.
For many students, the L.A. Unified School District was their primary provider of daily meals before the coronavirus outbreak. The district stated that they served over one million meals to students on an ordinary school day.
Beutner said LAUSD will continue feeding their students during this unprecedented time through 60 “grab-and-go” meal distribution centers. According to the district, the centers have already provided about 250,000 meals per day. Meals are available for kids at each center regardless of where they attend school. The 60 LAUSD locations are open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m while schools are closed.
In addition to caring for students, LAUSD will continue to pay their educators, a choice that they hope will inspire many other employers. All 70,000 employees, including teachers who are now expected to teach remotely, will be paid during this time, Betuner said.