The majority of students in half of Louisiana’s school districts do not have internet at their homes, illuminating a major challenge of shifting to remote learning as schools remain closed due to COVID-19.
In a survey for the Louisiana Department of Education, 35 parishes reported that more than 50% of their students do not have home internet access. Thirty-three parishes and city districts reported higher percentages.
When Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that students would not return to schools this semester, the department directed all school districts to create and implement a plan for “continuous learning,” also referred to as distance or remote education and learning.
Acting State Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux encouraged districts to use both high- and “low-tech” methods for instruction, like Google Classroom, Zoom meetings, phone calls and printed paper worksheets.
What that needs to look like is different for students depending on where they are located.
All students in Monroe City School District have access to internet and a phone they can use for video conferencing, according to survey results. But only 10% of students in rural Vernon Parish can connect to the web at home and 25% with a phone.
“We must innovate and work together to overcome these barriers to ensure every child, including those most vulnerable, have access to a quality education,” Scioneaux said in a statement Monday.
“School systems need additional support to serve all students. School systems reported needing additional assistance in expanding technology access for students, providing supports and related services to students with disabilities, and providing professional development for teachers to successfully provide continuous education.”
Respondents reported, on average, 28% of students do not have access to a school-issued or personal tablet or computer; 66% of students have home internet access; 78% of students have access to a phone that could be used for conference calls and learning; and 93% of staff have the necessary technology, including internet access and devices, to do their jobs from home, according to LDOE.
In Acadiana, the district with the highest percentage is Evangeline with 85% of students who have home internet or can use a cellular hotspot. Lafayette and St. Mary parishes each reported 80% with internet access.
The lowest in Acadiana is Vermilion Parish at 49%, followed closely by St. Martin Parish with 50%. Iberia Parish has 60% and St. Landry Parish has 65%. Not all area parishes answered this question on the survey.
In a press conference last week both Edwards and Scioneaux acknowledged concern for rural and low-income households without proper tools for online learning.
“So you know there are certain parts of the state not able to do (distance learning) as efficient and effectively as other parts,” Edwards said. “But I’m worried about what is happening across the board and just trying to make the very best of what is not an ideal situation, and that is harder to do in certain communities than others.”
The survey was issued to all Louisiana public school districts, including charter schools, and asked about the percentage of students and faculty with home access to internet and technology necessary for online remote learning.
It also asked about how districts are communicating with parents and internally with staff and how often, whether students are reviewing or receiving new content, and which subjects are being covered.
Responses from all 192 systems showed progress in the number offering some level of continuous education as well as significant challenges in ensuring equitable education for all students, a statement from LDOE said. Results represent all responses received by April 17.
Systems include charter and some alternative schools, which can report individually, as well as parish and city school districts.
Parish districts reporting the lowest percentages of students with home access to internet are:
– Vernon Parish: 10%
– Catahoula: 20%
– Tensas: 20%
– Bienville Parish: 25%
– Claiborne: 25%
– Union: 25%
– Winn: 25%
– Allen: 40%
– Avoyelles: 40%
– Caldwell: 40%
– Grant: 40%
– East Feliciana: 40%
– Lincoln: 40%
– Morehouse: 40%
Some districts and charter schools are reporting much higher numbers, though. Several reported 100% with access, many of them charter schools in New Orleans or virtual academies.
The only two with that high a number are LSU Laboratory School and City of Monroe School District. Close behind are:
– Ascension Parish: 97%
– Caddo Parish: 96.9%
– Pointe Coupee Parish: 96.8%
– Zachary Community School District: 96.18%
– Calcasieu Parish: 91%
– St. James Parish: 90%
Three parish systems — Acadia, St. Tammany and West Feliciana — did not answer this question on the survey.
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