LAUSD Independent Study and Distance Learning Programs Fall Short During COVID-19
By Phyllis Kimber Wilcox | Black Voice News
When the crisis began, no one knew how long it would last,–leaving all parties involved, parents, teachers, administrators and public servants– scrambling to keep everyone safe while meeting their mandate to educate students.
Many shifts in instructional practice have taken place in LAUSD since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic including—an attempt to reopen to in person instruction on a limited basis last year. This attempt to return to some form of in person instruction was reversed in March when it was determined to be safer to close campuses over fears the virus posed to both students and LAUSD employees.
Increasing vaccination rates, again changed the instructional landscape. With the return to in person education this past fall, students, teachers and parents had to adapt once again to the new challenges created by the pandemic.
With a spike in cases over the summer and increasing concern over variants, some parents are opting to keep their students at home. The Black Voice News spoke with a LAUSD employee on the condition they would remain anonymous. The employee stated they had noticed fewer students were returning to school than in previous years and while this was obvious, there were no district level discussions with employees about the situation. Still the employee expressed the optimistic opinion that things “would work themselves out. ”
While most parents did opt to return their students to in person instruction, according to one report, there has been a many fold increase in students whose parents decided to keep them at home. The report states,”While parents and state officials are pushing to fully reopen campuses this fall, some families are fearful of sending their kids back into classrooms too soon. But options for distance learning this fall are unclear across the state.”
Not Ready to Return
When COVID-19 first appeared and once it was clear students would be out of school for more than just a few weeks, LAUSD offered online instruction to all its students. But with the return of students to the classroom, the options for distance learning programs grew smaller.
LAUSD began using its independent study website to continue offering distance learning options to students and parents who weren’t ready to return to in person instruction. LAUSD’s Independent Study platform, City of Angels, has had mixed reviews. At the beginning of the school year some parents reported difficulties logging on to the website while others expressed concerns over the quality of instruction offered on the website.
While different school districts have their own procedures, independent study programs are generally created for individual students to address educational needs for short periods of time with the expectation students will return to in person instruction relatively quickly, for example during vacations, or illness, or for students with special schedules the pandemic has extended these programs beyond their usual function.
In a district short of teachers for various reasons, there are reports that the independent study website City of Angels does not have enough teachers or support staff.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, “When the state legislature ended pandemic-forced distance learning — in which students would receive live instruction on Zoom and other online platforms — it required districts to expand independent study as the remote alternative. Districts were also required to provide more live instruction in their independent study programs. Many districts, including LAUSD, complained they did not have time to prepare for the onslaught of students.”
Students with Disabilities
The situation has been especially difficult for students with disabilities whose individual education plans or IEP’s may require extra support and assistance in learning.
Parents’ concerns over these issues ended in a federal judge upholding a grievance over the lack of support the state’s independent study programs has provided for students with disabilities.
During a press conference announcing a task force to study programs to close the achievement gap for some of California’s most vulnerable students,Tony Thurmond California State Superintendent of Public Education when asked about the difficulties independent study programs were facing during Covid, especially LAUSD, stated “It’s been difficult across the state and across the nation because there are teacher shortages while our kids are quarantining from Covid. So we will use many of these programs, we will use the dollars we talked about for teacher recruitment to help us focus on how we close the teacher shortages, and our staff shortages and our counselor shortages …”
Black Voice News’ attempts to speak directly with an LAUSD official on this issue were met with receipt of a link to the independent learning website. As of publication, no one in the district, despite multiple efforts, was made available for comment.
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