By David Jacobs | The Center Square
About 86 percent of public schools in Louisiana are either operating or intend to operate a hybrid learning model combining in-person and online learning, state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said Thursday.
Conversely, about 69 percent of private schools are planning fully face-to-face learning, he added.
The Department of Education distributed $316 million in CARES Act funding to schools, which could be used for devices and internet connectivity. The department estimates 77 percent of students have one-to-one access to a mobile device for schoolwork such as a laptop, while 75 percent have home internet access, Brumley said, meaning about a quarter of students don’t have internet access.
As of Thursday, 27 of 69 public school districts were holding classes, he said. The education department has laid out guidelines for protecting public health while holding classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s easy to point fingers and blame people, but everyone has a heightened sense of anxiety right now,” Brumley said. “We just have to give each other grace and patience as we work through this together.”
Brumley spoke during a joint online meeting of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana Board of Regents, which oversees colleges and universities.
By the end of next week, 11 public and private higher education institutions will be holding classes, Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said. Start dates continue through Aug. 24.
Schools are using a hybrid approach, with many students “platooning” by taking classes in-person on some days and online on other days, though some students are learning entirely online, she said.
Reed said some institutions have moved up their start dates so they can finish the semester before Thanksgiving, in hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19 resulting from holiday trips home. Other schools plan to finish in-person classes by Thanksgiving and go completely online for the end of the semester.
Regents hosted two days of emergency planning exercises with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security to “pressure test” safety protocols and practice responding to campus COVID-19 outbreak scenarios. Decisions about potential campus closures will be made by campus administrators and regional medical directors, Reed said.
“We, like Superintendent Brumley, know that it is impossible to have COVID in every community in our state and not have it on our campuses,” she said.
Reed said the preliminary count shows about 3 percent of students who planned to attend state colleges or universities this semester withdrew, which represents about 900 more students than withdrew last year.
Using $5 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds from the federal government, over the summer postsecondary education trained more than 3,300 students, faculty and staff in both digital literacy and delivery of online courses, officials said. They also provided devices and internet access to students across the state in need of technology supports.
Earlier this summer, Regents partnered with the state Division of Administration to distribute 1,200 new laptops to college campuses to support efforts to reduce the “digital divide,” Regents said.