All five of Adriana Ruiz's kids start school Tuesday, but she still doesn't know if all of them will even attend their virtual classes. Her kids, ages 10 through 16, all have district-issued laptops they were given their second week into remote learning in March, but the WiFi at her apartment in Cudahy is spotty and can't support five streaming devices for hours on end.
Last week, after picking up their books, Ruiz requested an internet hotspot. She's still on the waiting list.
In addition, Ruiz is worried that she'll need to help her children through their lessons, though she hasn't been trained on the district's teaching platforms.
She's not alone. Across the city, anxiety is rising as parents and children face a new type of school year. Parents have become both the district's IT team and teachers' aides. Advocates worry that low-income students without access to a quiet place to work and stable internet access will suffer most. And there's also concern about keeping school-age children's attention focused on a screen.
Despite months of preparation, LAUSD, the nation's second largest school district, still can't account for some basic connectivity issues. The district, which has partnered with several internet carriers, has no way of determining how many of its 600,000 students have access to WiFi, LAUSD spokesperson Barbara Jones told dot.LA.
Hannah Gravette from Innovate Public Schools, a Bay Area nonprofit that began working with public school parents in L.A. two years ago, said some parents aren't getting internet despite district promises because of unpaid bills. Some undocumented families were also uncomfortable with the information providers were requesting of them.
"In many of L.A.'s dense, urban-core communities, there are already equity issues with bandwidth. Less towers, more people," Gravette said. "So already there was spotty or poor connectivity."
There's a disconnect between what LAUSD is providing and whether parents feel prepared. At the same time, there's little the district can do to forecast what online learning will look like for many children.
Earlier this month, the California Department of Education was scrambling to provide resources for about 1 million students who didn't have the technology needed for remote learning.
When schools first shut down in March, LAUSD announced a $100 million initiative to provide every student with a laptop and internet hotspot. Superintendent Austin Beutner marked the issue nearly "solved" in early May during a weekly video update.
But it wasn't.
Many families still didn't have laptops. And Beutner has said that the first few days of school — the days most students remember for awkward introductions and first impressions — will be used for orientation, training and to hand out laptops and hotspots.
Schoology, the online course management system downloaded onto district-loaned devices.Sharaf Maksumov/ Shutterstock
For those families still without tech access, the district has set up a hotline. But getting the message out has been difficult, a reflection of the uneven communication in a district trying to reach busy parents.
Jenny Hontz, who works at the L.A. nonprofit Speak Up, an advocacy organization that represents over 4,000 parents across the city, said several families she has spoken with didn't even know there was a help number to call. Instead they were calling their local schools, which were closed. Desperate parents were leaving messages on voicemails that weren't always picked up.
L.A. Unified School District has over 1,000 schools and 200 independently-run charter schools. With about 80% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, many of the students come from households struggling financially.
"I believe that the effort was made. Principals went into students' homes to give screen devices, etc. It doesn't necessarily mean 100% of them got it," Pedro Noguera, dean of USC's school of education told dot.LA.
"How effectively they addressed the need remains to be seen. We know there are a lot of kids that, even if they had access, were not online, were not doing their work. We don't know why."
LAUSD's own survey shows that class participation this spring was disproportionately low for Latino and Black students, students classified as English learners, students with disabilities and students in foster care or experiencing homelessness.
A report from an over two-month period this spring covering secondary students showed only 60% of the district's middle and high school students were active each day on Schoology, the online course management system downloaded onto district-loaned devices. At the time, when it was unclear how long the pandemic would keep schools closed, students' participation wasn't required, so it's difficult to tell how much of this will predict the system's use in the fall.
"We've learned a good deal about online education since March and it's clear there is a need for more one-on-one support for students," Beutner said in an update last week. "The individual attention a teacher can provide to a student in a classroom at a school is not easily replicated in a Zoom class with 20 or 30 students."
He said the district will offer in-person and online tutoring for students who need it, an initiative with the new nonprofit Step Up Tutoring.
Meanwhile, the district has purchased some 200,000 computers.
But even once kids received devices, not every parent knew how to use it or log into the online school system where their kids would attend class and submit assignments.
The only official training Ruiz received on distanced-learning software was how to log in into Schoology, a platform her older children knew how to use. But this fall, her five kids might each use a different online platform because each teacher can choose their own.
Meanwhile, she's waiting for her hotspot. LAUSD's Jones told dot.LA that the school district has "been able to fulfill all requests for hotspots," but she wouldn't say whether there remained a waiting list for some.
When she is online, Ruiz will be doing what a lot of students are doing to get by — Googling it.
"It was new for us as parents," Ruiz said. "We didn't get a lot of training into navigating the different technology platforms. We had to Google and YouTube it. Just as the teachers got training, parents need training as well."
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The coronavirus pandemic's emergence has changed the world around us. Conferences have been cancelled, travel has been severely restricted, and working from home has become the norm. But less clear is the scale of the economic impact and how companies should be reacting. Here are the latest headlines regarding how the novel coronavirus is impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest updates.
Manufacturers Asked to Convert Factories to Make Critical Supplies: "We Need All Hands on Deck"; 20,000 Test Kits Purchased, More to Come
Los Angeles city and county officials are ramping up novel coronavirus testing significantly, announcing on Monday they secured 20,000 test kits that can be processed at a rate of 5,000 a day. Priority will be given to first health care workers and first responders.
Los Angeles city officials also have an additional 100,000 tests kits have been procured from South Korea-based Seegene Technologies that will be made free to the public. County officials also announced a partnership with Curative Inc, a Bay Area company that set up shop earlier this month to produce test kits in San Dimas and is now making 1,000 a day.
As of March 20, roughly 2,400 people had been tested in Los Angeles County. Experts say that without widespread testing, it's difficult to understand where there are outbreaks and contain them.
The announcement came as the number of cases in the county shot up to 536, with 128 new cases announced on Monday. About 80% of the cases are from people ages 18-65. And of those positive cases, 90 have been hospitalized at some point, said Barbara Ferrer, the head of the county's public health department.
With hospital bracing for a surge and anticipating a shortage in supplies like swabs, testing trays, gloves, masks and other materials, Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez called on manufacturers to convert their factories to help.
"We're calling on all factories and manufacturers in Southern California who have the ability to convert their production lines to do it as soon as possible," Martinez said. "We need all hands on deck to properly address this crisis with the speed and scale it requires."
Los Angeles county is the nation's hub of manufacturing.
"We should not wait for the president to use the Defense Production Act," she said.
Reporting by Rachel Uranga. Follow her at @racheluranga
LAUSD closed until May 1, Verizon to provide internet at home for needy students
Los Angeles Unified School District schools will remain closed through May 1, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced Monday as officials scramble to stem the spread of the fast-moving novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, the nation's second largest district has brokered a deal with Verizon to provide internet connectivity at their home as instruction has moved online. The district has one of the highest concentration of low-income students in the state with 80 percent qualifying for free and reduced lunches. It's estimated about one out of five LAUSD K-12 students don't have access to the internet.
"The digital divide is very real, as many as 100,000 of our students lack access to the internet at home," Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a statement. "We must find a way for all students to continue to learn while schools are closed and this partnership with Verizon will help to do that." Terms of the deal were undisclosed.
Reporting by Rachel Uranga. Follow her at @racheluranga
Tesla Ships Masks, Supplies to UCLA Medical Center
Stronger together. Some much-needed supplies have arrived! Thank you @elonmusk and @Tesla for your generosity and b… https://t.co/8tGdR3ZUNC— UCLA Health (@UCLA Health) 1584906286.0
UCLA said Elon Musk's Tesla has begun shipping vital supplies to regional hospitals as part of the company's effort to help with disruptions. The electric car giant tweeted: "Glad we can help! We're sending masks and supplies to as many hospitals as we can."
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