desks school stock classroom

More than 1 in 4 public school students lack access to a computer or tablet at home to assist with distance learning during the classrooms shutdown sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a state survey released Monday.

The review also shows that just 66% of students have internet access at home and 78% have access to a phone that can be used for conference calls and learning.

Sandy Holloway, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the results highlight "our threadbare broadband networks, which leave many students unable to connect to their new online classrooms."

The state has about 720,000 public school students.

The survey means that more than 200,000 students – 28% – lack home access to a computer or tablet amid a shutdown that will total nine weeks by the end of the school year in late May.

About two-thirds of students – nearly half a million – live in low-income households.

The survey was done by the state Department of Education from April 7-17.

A previous snapshot done by the agency last month showed the 39 of 69 school districts were offering some form of distance education, with the St. Tammany School District the lone system that did not respond.

The latest results show that all districts are offering students some form of continuous education.

However, the question this time was broader than the March survey, and was not limited to options like videoconferencing, satellite learning and online chats.

The latest review also shows that 32% of districts are connecting with students daily, 38% weekly and 30% at some other frequency.

A total of 173,000 students – 24% – are getting no feedback, according to the survey.

"The best practice includes daily contact among teachers and students and at least weekly feedback on students' work," the department said in a statement that accompanied the survey.

Vaccine news in your inbox

Once a week we'll update you on the progress of COVID-19 vaccinations. Sign up today.

Belinda Davis, also a member of BESE, said the review points up limitations educators face in trying to minimize learning gaps. "This survey lets us know that online learning is not going to be the sole solution for us, not without a major financial investment by districts," said Davis, who lives in Baton Rouge.

Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said the number of students without home access to computers or tablets highlights some of the inequities. "That shows there is a lot of disparity out there," Faulk said.

In a statement, Acting State Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux said local educators have show ingenuity and leadership during the tumultuous 2019-20 school year.

But Scioneaux said districts "need additional support related to technology access for students; services for students with disabilities; and professional development for teachers to successfully provide continuous education using high-quality and standards-aligned curricula."

"We must innovate and work together to overcome these barriers to ensure every child, including the most vulnerable, has access to a quality education," Scioneaux said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards initially closed schools effective March 16.

Last week he said classes would remain closed for the rest of the school year, boosting the need for distance learning to minimize academic gaps that educators say are sure to surface because of the shutdown.

Faulk, former superintendent of the Central School District, said some superintendents are trying to get computers to the homes of students.

"And if you get it (computers) to them and they don't have internet access what good is it?" he asked.

Fauk also said issues like web security and ensuring firewalls can withstand ransomware attacks are among the challenges.

The survey said 70% of respondents said they are making contingency plans for summer school and 28% are studying an earlier start to the 2020-21 school year.

Faulk said superintendents are awaiting spending guidelines on the state's share of the $2.2 trillion federal rescue plan – an estimated $287 million for public schools – and whether those funds can help finance summer school.

Holloway said she hopes some of the money can help expand technology so that all students have access to computer-related distance learning.

The survey said that, while student access to technology is the top need, support for those with disabilities and professional training for teachers to aid in remote learning are top priorities.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.

Hurricane Ida Text Message Updates for Baton Rouge: Sign up for free

Standard message and data rates apply.