“It’s been 25 school days since we closed school facilities and began the transition to distance learning. 25 very long days,” Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District said in a press conference Monday morning.
“As students are connected, we are helping teachers take their talents online. About 85% of teachers have completed the required 10 hours of training in the basics,” Beutner said. “And it’s exciting to see more than half of them have signed up for an additional 30 hours of training.”
Since April 3, about 95% of LAUSD students have taken part in online learning in some capacity. This is an improvement from the week before when more than a third of LAUSD high school students were not engaging with online learning daily.
But the biggest is connecting elementary school students. According to Beutner, 71% of elementary students have access to devices. But students who still need devices may not have access until May as they await their arrival from various global sources, according to EdSource.
LAUSD invested $100 million to make technology and Wi-Fi accessible from home for students and faculty in early April to help lessen the digital divide for students.
But the greatest challenge was extending Wi-Fi and technology access to low-income school communities within the district. Some of these areas have little to no internet access. Some families that do have access have to pay extra fees and long contracts. Watts, one area facing this issue, has the lowest access to the internet in LA County, according to the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. Geographical challenges pose an issue to getting students in these areas connected, but service providers like AT&T, Charter Spectrum, T-Mobile and Verizon say they are trying to help combat this issue as fast as possible, according to the LA Times.
According to an analysis by Hernan Galperin, Associate Professor of Communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only about half of the K-12 families in the bottom fifth of income distribution in LA County are prepared for distance learning. That compares to 90% preparedness for families in the top fifth.
“The closure of school campuses is laying bare the disparities in household resources for effective distance learning,” Galperin said. “Without aggressive initiatives from schools and local or state governments, low-income and minority students will fall further behind because of COVID-19.”
LAUSD has been leaning on programs like Google Classroom, Edgenuity and Schoology, to help assist students and teachers during this pandemic. Speak UP, an organization of parent advocates has been helping connect the communities in LAUSD. Speak UP is using iFamily, a program to help navigate distance learning, to get everyone connected. Along with iFamily, they are working with iTutor to help tutor students in the district. And with Speak UP’s programs like iFamily and iTutor, they will help teach LAUSD families how to get connected and offer volunteer tutoring services.
In the midst of the pandemic, Beutner is looking at the things LAUSD can control, like having a great learning environment for the students when they come back to the classroom. Beutner said it isn’t about statistics, but the education of students.
“We are using the time while school facilities are not in use to get much-needed repairs and upgrades done to put schools in great shape for student’s return. The work includes getting some of the more disruptive things done while students are not there and accelerating routine maintenance. There’s an additional benefit as about 300 more people are employed doing this work,” Beutner said.