Interim Superintendent Irma Trosclair speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Martial Billeaud Elementary School Monday, February 10, 2020, in Broussard, La.

The Lafayette Parish School System has opted to forgo distance learning during the coronavirus closure to avoid widening performance gaps between children with internet and computer access and those without.

The district included the announcement in an update bulletin posted to its website Tuesday. The statement said all required lessons, quizzes, projects and other assignments will be suspended and parents are encouraged to contact their child’s teacher for supplemental education materials.

LPSS spokesperson Allison Dickerson said the change was made after administrators reviewed a random sampling of student access surveys teachers conducted Friday before schools closed. Teachers gave printed surveys to older students and helped poll younger students about their technology and internet access at home.

The sampling made it clear distance learning wouldn’t be a viable option for all students. The district explored the idea of temporary internet access for students without home Wi-Fi but decided it wasn’t possible at this time. Foregoing active instruction was the only way to keep things equitable, she said.

“Whenever you’re in school, teachers can assess the learning and can make sure learning is always going forward, that we’re addressing the needs of our students. We can’t do that in a system where schools are closed,” Dickerson said. “We want what’s good for our entire population, not just the select few who have internet access.”

Dickerson said they’re making parents aware of the changes through updates on the district website, their social media channels and through text messages and emails sent through the district’s JCampus system. Parents are also encouraged to submit questions to the district through a new online form, and they’ll be consolidating answers to common questions in a public Q-and-A form, she said.

The spokesperson said the district is assessing the viability of providing students without internet access with paper materials. Students and their parents should first contact their child’s teacher for advisement, but Dickerson said they’re concerned about students going in person to collect materials from the teacher or the district office. They want to maintain strict social distancing as much as possible, she said.

“We’re figuring out day-to-day solutions to this problem as we go,” she said. “It’s changing hour by hour and that’s probably not even a fair enough statement, more like minute to minute. It’s a very fluid situation. All we can do is make decisions with the information we currently have on hand.”

Julia Reed, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators, said teachers received an email Tuesday with the new guidance and were provided a list of supplemental learning materials and resources they can provide to parents interested in continuing their students’ learning.

Reed said she’s spoken with and received messages from teachers frustrated by the lack of teaching because they want to provide a sense of normalcy to their students and don’t want them to backslide. They’re also concerned about standardized testing, school evaluations and their paychecks, despite waivers from Gov. John Bel Edwards and waiver applications filed with the federal government.

“Teachers are understandably nervous,” Reed said.

The association president said she understands the school system’s need to ensure achievement and access gaps don’t widen for students without means during the closures. District administrators have to think of the bigger picture, she said.

“I think the school system is doing the very best that they can right now,” Reed said.

Reed, who teaches fifth-grade English language arts at S.J. Montgomery Elementary, recommended parents who don’t have formal materials encourage their children to read. Reading can touch on many topics and can also help reduce screen time if parents are concerned about overexposure. The public library is still offering drive-thru services, she said.

The teacher said it’s important parents show themselves grace during this difficult time. Most are not trained educators and parents shouldn’t expect themselves to replicate a model classroom environment in their homes while handling work and other needs during the pandemic, she said.

Reed said providing emotional support and focusing on the health and happiness of their family is just as important for a child’s stability and well-being.

“I think that parents shouldn’t put too much pressure on themselves to try to do a full day of home schooling,” Reed said. “If they want to do stuff they can, but I think the best thing is to be emotionally supportive for the kids because it’s a break in their routine and that’s always scary to kids.”

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