In this file photo from March 17, 2020, in New Orleans, staff at Paul Habans Charter School hands out supplies including food, books and computers to students and the community as Louisiana schools close due to the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
At a Tuesday meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Louisiana Department of Education released a list of solutions parishes can take to close the technology gap among students. About 1 in 4 Louisiana families has no access to the Internet.
Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley and Kim Nesmith, data quality and management director for the education department, provided updates on the Statewide Educational Technology Plan to the board Tuesday.
“Together we can ensure students have access to the technology they need to live, work and thrive in our connected world,” said Nesmith. “It’s going to take a community effort.”
The Lafayette Parish and Jefferson Parish school districts were cited as examples of what other school districts can do to make sure all children in their parish have internet connectivity by the first day of school.
“(Lafayette Parish) has been determining families’ connectivity through phone surveys, they have been working with providers to find low-cost options and to publicize those so families can take advantage,” said Nesmith. “As for more services made available in their location, they’re looking to establish public access locations as well as mobile access points.”
Meanwhile, Jefferson Parish allowed parents to submit applications for assistance getting connected, Nesmith said. They then sought out low-cost options from internet providers for these students — paid for by the school system.
“Both systems employed a similar set of actions: they determined who was connected and who was not. And of those not connected where service was available, they worked with providers to provide low-cost options,” said Nesmith. She went on to describe how these school districts also established public access points or mobile access points in areas where connectivity was not available.
These steps were listed by the education department as best practices for success for Louisiana school systems.
There are currently 403,000 households in Louisiana with no kind of internet connection, or about 25 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Forty-two percent of households have no broadband connection (or high speed internet).
To determine each parish’s internet needs, the education department is developing a dashboard to measure it, Brumley said.
The dashboard will show the number of students enrolled, the number of students with a device issued to them, the number of students with broadband access or connectivity, Brumley said. He also said these numbers should be available for each individual parish in the coming months.
“I think this will be an important tool as we make policy decisions, but also as we ask for additional funds that will be needed if we’re going to have broadband across the entire state,” Brumley said.
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