A new comprehensive survey from the Louisiana Department of Education provides a much more detailed look at how school districts across the state are providing distance learning during an unprecedented statewide school closure due to COVID-19. The new survey shows that 192 Louisiana school districts — which includes charter school networks and standalone charters, each considered its own district — reported providing some level of continuing education, officials said. That’s a marked jump from the roughly half that said they were in a previous survey solely of parish-defined districts. 

In New Orleans, most schools are providing a hybrid model of online coursework and paper packet lessons, while using videoconferencing, online chats, emails, texts and phone calls to stay in contact with students. The lessons are a mix of review and new subject matter. Answers also sheds light on how many schools are considering offering summer school and which may start early next fall. 

Under the text of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ current school closure order, school buildings will remain closed through May 15, but the intent is to close schools through the end of the academic year. To align with that date, some local schools have moved up their last day of school. But most schools closed around that date. May 15 is at most a week earlier than planned for the majority of schools. Parents in New Orleans — an all-charter school city — should check with their individual school, as charters set their own calendars.

In a Monday release, the state said the survey results “show progress in the number of school systems offering some level of continuous education to students amid the extended closure of public school facilities.”

But the results also show “significant challenges that remain in ensuring equitable education for all students now and in the future.” Leaders said they needed more help getting technology to students, and not all students are receiving feedback on their assigned schoolwork.

And some charter schools in New Orleans complained about bureaucratic red tape and lack of clarity from the state Department of Education. 

‘Stop sending us these surveys’

In mid-April, the NOLA Public Schools district made clear it expected its charters to teach through the end of their school years. The district has purchased and distributed laptops and hotspots to its schools.

Acting State Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux said she appreciated educators’ efforts.

“They have adopted their own unique strategies to engage students academically, socially and emotionally, and more importantly, they have provided necessary stability for many in an uncertain time,” Scioneaux said in the release. “But our school systems 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 those most vulnerable, have access to a quality education.”

Schools were also asked to tell the state how frequently their central office staff and teaching staff were meeting, that ranged from daily to bi-weekly. And whether and how students were receiving feedback on their work. Some are and some aren’t. 

The department asked schools what percentage of their students and staff had internet access and the technology they needed to do schoolwork and/or teach. Across the state, on average, school systems reported that more than one-third of students and nearly ten percent of teachers “do not have the right technology to maximize learning.” 

Additionally, about 50 percent of school systems reported needing help providing special education services to students. Forty percent of school systems reported needing help teaching teachers “how to successfully provide distance learning.”

In all, the survey asked more than 60 questions. 

When asked what types of support it needed, Crescent City Schools replied:

“Stop sending us these surveys with no context and that ask for information we couldn’t possibly have. And less bureaucracy.”

The three-school charter group also specifically called for “a plan to get the governor’s $50 million from the CARES Act to schools.” And asked for “clear guidance about charter school accountability and renewals.” Officials have not provided clear answers on charter renewals, but absent exams and letter grades — which have been waived — some education advocates are calling for a change soon.

It’s unclear who filled out the survey for each school system, but Crescent City Schools’ response also asked that the governor appoint a permanent superintendent of education, suggesting top Department of Education official Jessica Baghian, who announced her application for the job in late February.

New Orleans schools asking for more answers, support

Sophie B. Wright Charter School and ENCORE Academy’s responses asked for help “providing supports and related services to students with disabilities” and “professional development for teachers to successfully provide distance learning”

ENCORE also asked for help providing technology for students and guidance on how to address students’ individual academic needs, including how to access those materials. So did ReNEW Schools. 

In response to schools’ requests for help, the state said it “released a suite of resources” and a technology guide.

Additionally, the release said the department “will soon provide guidance to school systems on how to identify every child’s learning level; implement a plan to ensure every child is ready to build on that learning level, including strategies for extra academic time and continued use of high-quality curricula; and support the Class of 2020 in the successful transition to life after high school graduation.”

School leaders in New Orleans are also wondering about how funding could be affected next school year. Leaders at New Harmony High School, a state-authorized charter in New Orleans, asked for a financial forecast, “budgeting– where will be with MFP” in their survey answers.

Across the state, the department’s release said “70 percent of respondents are contingency planning on offering summer school, but only 28 percent are contingency planning on starting the school year earlier.”

New Orleans saw similar numbers among reporting schools. In a review of 73 New Orleans charters, covering nearly all schools in the city, The Lens found that about 60 percent planned to do summer school, and 27 percent were considering starting next school year early. 

KIPP New Orleans Schools reported it will provide summer school and also start the next school year early, according to its answers. As will Morris Jeff Community School, The NET’s two campuses, Arise Academy and Esperanza Charter School, according to their answers. 

Other city schools, like Collegiate Academy campuses and New Orleans College Prep, reported they will provide summer school but not begin next school year early. The survey did not require schools to clarify if summer school sessions will occur in-person or remotely. 

Full results are available here.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...