Despite entering the second-week of digital learning, as many as 100,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) still do not have a connection to their classmates and teachers online. In a live-stream announcement Monday morning, Superintendent Austin voiced concerns regarding student access to online learning in the school district where a digital divide is “very real.”
“About 80% of our students come from families who are struggling to get by and many are not connected on the Internet,” Beutner said. “We need to train students, teachers, and families so they’re all connected and comfortable using the technology.”
This disconnect has resulted in low attendance in many online classroom efforts at the high school level. LAUSD estimates that up to 15,000 students in the district have made no online connection since schools closed on March 16.
“It’s simply not acceptable that we lose touch with 15,000 young adults or that many students aren’t getting the education they should be,” Beautner said.
The statistics are even more staggering on the daily level. When classes meet online, an average of 68% of students are in attendance, meaning 32%— or 41,600 students— have not logged in every day.
Of the kids failing to connect, Beautner said the majority of them are students living in vulnerable populations like the foster care system or deep poverty. Others have disabilities or are learning to speak English, providing additional barriers to access. Such students often struggled to attend school regularly in ordinary times.
LAUSD is making efforts to ensure access to schooling is possible for all students. Verizon Communications partnered with LAUSD to provide free wireless internet and electronic devices to students in need. As a result of this partnership, over 2,000 students have benefited from the partnership with Verizon in the past week alone, Beautner said. The district is targeting access at the high school level first and will trickle down to elementary schools as funding allows.
While access is the first obstacle, challenges with online learning go beyond connecting students and teachers. Many parents have multiple students at home, and struggle with sharing resources between their children, explained Trisha Sousa, the mother of three students at Lake Mathews Elementary School.
“If all of the school work is done online, well, there’s three kids in the house, there isn’t three computers,” Sousa said. “There’s one computer for the kids and one computer for the grownups.”
Jaimee Rudd, mother to a third-grader at Lake Mathews, is in a similar situation. To ensure fairness, Rudd created a system for her daughters while they are participating in online learning.
“If it’s an hour block, I’ll say, ‘Ashley go do your 30 minutes of math online, Emily go do your reading,’ and then I’ll flip them,” Rudd said. “We really don’t know how to navigate it at this point.”
To combat the obstacles students face in connecting to online resources, California PBS Stations have partnered with LAUSD to broadcast at-home learning programs daily to keep students active. The various programs correlate with “state standards curriculum-approved resources” and target all grade levels and subjects. PBS quickly expanded these partnerships to 70 stations in 30 states.
“Our efforts together with PBS are bearing fruit,” Beutner noted this morning, “More than 200,000 people in the area are now watching each day and we’re finding that many families are watching together, sharing the learning and finding a few moments of stability in an otherwise chaotic time.”
The weekly schedule of programs and more information on different ways to stream can be found at athomelearning.org.