Louisiana education department releases new guidelines for learning amid the pandemic

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Though it has been apparent for some time that Louisiana schools were unlikely to reopen during the current academic year, Gov. John Bel Edwards made it official Wednesday.

That means students, who haven’t been to campus since mid-March, will miss more than two months of class time. While Edwards and public education officials say learning will continue, a Louisiana Department of Education survey found almost half of the state’s school districts were not offering distance education.

The education department on Thursday released guidelines to help schools determine whether students are ready to advance to the next grade. Standardized testing will not be required this year. Earlier this month, the department advised schools about how to keep seniors on track to graduate.

Also on Thursday, the department issued guidance for classroom-level distance learning, including two case studies that demonstrate both “high-tech” and “low-tech” approaches. The latter could be particularly important in low-income and/or rural households without reliable internet access.

Monroe City Schools gave out printed assignments for the first couple weeks that school buildings were shuttered, and those remain an option. All of the city’s students currently have wi-fi access, according to the state education department, and families who need devices can check out inexpensive laptops.

FirstLine Schools, which operates charter schools in New Orleans, implemented a hybrid approach that includes a “no tech” option, the department says. Students were sent home with packets of course material, and staff members rode bus routes to hand out materials for students who had been absent.

As schools remained closed, FirstLine produced additional packets and mailed them to families. Special education teachers support students with disabilities with phone calls and virtual support, the department says.

The department on Thursday also provided information about how school systems can provide low-cost devices and broadband to students. The new guidance adds to previously provided information, including various distance education models and help with academic and workforce planning.

The next six weeks will be critical for evaluating each student’s academic progress and preparing them for a strong start to next year, as well as helping seniors move into the next phase of their lives, the department says. State officials are giving local school systems broad leeway in deciding whether seniors are able to graduate.

Local officials may replace traditional grades with a binary pass/fail option, officials said earlier this month, though the state department is not recommending that route, interim State Superintendent Beth Scioneaux said Wednesday.

“Louisiana believes those closest to children – parents and teachers – are best positioned to make decisions about their child’s unique learning needs,” Scioneaux said Thursday.

The department’s COVID-19 resources can be found here.