As the coronavirus continues to spread, students and educators across Louisiana are grappling with how they can still manage to finish the academic year despite in-person classes being canceled for the foreseeable future. In accordance with Governor John Bel Edwards' statewide order, all schools have been shut until at least April 14, but many predict that this date could extend until the end of the school year. Many schools across the country are turning to distance learning during this uncertain time, but a recent survey done by the Louisiana Department of Education found that only 39 of 69 public school districts are offering distance learning for their students.
Distance learning largely manifests itself through online classes where teachers can connect with their students through platforms like YouTube and Zoom. However, educators across the country have found that this new form of instruction is plagued by an array of shortcomings. In Louisiana, only 69% of households have internet access, leaving a significant portion of students unable to participate in online classes. According to an LSU Professor of Political Science, officials have urged the school "to use the lowest tech possible because they know that our students are scattered across Louisiana, and not all of them will have access to more robust platforms."
Additionally, the lack of in-person instruction and interaction does not provide students with the same quality of education that they are accustomed to, and it fails to provide them with important resources and supplementary materials. While distance learning is certainly a large adjustment for students, many teachers are finding it difficult to adapt to this new technology-driven approach, further contributing to the difficulties of the change. In order to mitigate confusion, the teacher union known as the Louisiana Association of Educators has been providing training sessions for educators to help them master the practice of distance learning.
In Louisiana, the majority of school districts offering distance learning are located in metropolitan areas. According to a state survey, these areas include the Ascension, Livingston, Central Zachary, Iberville, West Feliciana, St. Bernard, St. Charles, Jefferson and Lafayette school districts, along with public schools in New Orleans. There are currently 29 districts not taking part in distance learning efforts, including East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Calcasieu, East Feliciana, Tangipahoa, St James, St John the Baptist, Terrebonne, and Iberia parish school districts.
In these districts not offering online classes, officials are still encouraging at-home learning by offering additional educational resources on the state Department of Education website, including instruction in English, math, science, and social studies. BESE President Sandy Holloway believes we will see more schools across the state adopting distance learning efforts. She also noted the enormous effort many schools are demonstrating in order to support their students, noting, "They are also working on serving food to the children. They are overwhelmed but very grateful that they can support families."