During its Wednesday, Oct. 21 meeting, the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution that students have “sufficient” access to textbooks and other instructional materials– including computers and internet connectivity.
Nevertheless, Superintendent Dr. Jill Baker said that LBUSD is waiting on 2,000 additional internet-access hot-spots to help students connect.
The board’s resolution follows the passing of Senate Bill 820 in September that amends a previous law on children’s access to learning materials by including electronic equipment, such as laptops and connection devices.
That equipment is now critical for students to access their classes and learning materials during COVID-19 restrictions that have shut LBUSD schools since spring.
Most students have been taking classes entirely online since Sept. 1. LBUSD’s target date to reopen schools and resume classroom learning is Jan. 28.
See related story: ‘We want to be very careful’
Dr. Kristi Kahl, LBUSD’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and professional development, said that in September, the board had approved a new method for documenting “sufficiency” in an online context.
“How can you ensure that everybody has a textbook if we can’t ensure that they have an internet connection?” she asked.
This school year, teachers at each school certified that each student had access to required core instructional materials online, Kahl said.
“In cases where students did not come and pick up a physical textbook, […] the teachers would verify that the students had logged into Canvas (LBUSD’s learning-management system),” Kahl said. “That is something that can be verified which would tell them that they had access to those materials.”
The principal of each school is then responsible for determining sufficiency of access and reporting it to the district, she said.
Kahl also said her office is observing 17 or 18 “audit” schools that report individual teacher data directly to LA County, which then reports to the State.
“It’s a tremendous endeavor,” Kahl said, adding that the district is required to make its “sufficiency” assessment before the eight week of instruction, which is this week.
Kahl said the process started back in August when her department started working with individuals schools, principals and teachers to determine sufficient student access.
“We can say we do not have any insufficiencies,” Kahl said.
Board President Diana Craighead asked Kahl whether the LBUSD can say definitively that all students have a district-issued Chromebook or other computing device and internet access.
“At the time we conducted the audit, that was the case,” Kahl said. “Each teacher had to certify that their students had checked-in via Canvas and had access to instructional materials.”
Kahl acknowledged that some students may have lost that access in the past month or two. “Circumstances change,” Kahl said. “But we are able to establish at one point in time every student had it.”
She also said teachers and principals have been responsive when they hear a student doesn’t have internet access.
District 3 representative Dr. Juan Benitez asked Kahl to clarify whether “sufficiency” meant access to online materials or a textbook.
“It could be either,” Kahl said. “All of our core instructional materials that have been embedded into our unit documents, [and] provide all the resources that students need and those have been posted online for the students.”
Kahl added that LBUSD even purchased additional textbooks to replace those that students did not return after schools closed last spring. Current students picked up textbooks at their schools at the beginning of this school year.
Benitez further pressed Kahl about how the district can ensure students maintain connectivity.
“How are we going about assessing that our students– although they may have connected once– that the connection is consistent?” he asked.
Kahl said teachers are letting counselors and principals know in cases where students are not connecting.
“There’s a process in place at our sites in which they’re following up on those students to make sure it isn’t just merely a hot-spot issue, to find out what’s going on,” she said. Baker noted that the district is also waiting on an order for one thousand additional hot-spots it purchased to distribute to students as necessary.
“We also have a thousand hot spots coming from the County,” she added. “The County Board of Supervisors made a commitment to add hot-spots, too, based on an assessment that our technology department did, and so we’re awaiting on those and we know who needs them.”
Baker qualified that a hot-spot by itself doesn’t address dropped connections or intermittent connectivity, noting that students have experiences interference between their home wi-fi and their hot-spots.
“If a family does have wi-fi, it actually works better to turn the hot-spot off and use the wi-fi,” Baker said. “Sometimes the interference is from a neighboring wi-fi.”
Baker also said families can exchange hot-spots at the students’ schools if they are not working correctly, and also obtain physical textbooks to supplement reading the same material online.
“Sometimes that’s for preference or student’s learning style,” Baker said. “In addition to reading something online, they’re welcome to request hard copy or book materials from their schools.”
During the public hearing prior to the board approving its resolution, two speakers asked for more data about “sufficiency” and expressed concern about assistive technology for special- needs students.
Tonia Reyes Uranga, a District 2 school-board candidate in the upcoming Nov. 3 election, said that in LA County, 37% of Black students lacked a computer and high-speed internet access at home, as did 39% of Latinx students and 25% of Pacific Islander students, all of which are also prominent ethnicities in the district she is running to represent.
“It would be great to get numbers on LBUSD students disaggregated by race, ethnicity, low-income, English-learners, homeless students and foster youth,” Uranga said, “so our community can feel assured that all students are receiving the instructional materials and textbooks, electronic equipment and assistive technology that they may need to succeed.”