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INSIDE EDUCATION: How COVID-19 exposes learning difficulties for low-income, rural families

CENLA mother expresses common issues for families in rural communities as coronavirus pandemic pushes school districts to offer online learning options.
Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 6:01 PM CDT
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RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - As school districts across the country prepare for students to return, the coronavirus is in full force, giving parents tough choices to make for their child’s safety.

Alyssa Jones is one of the more than 7,000 parents in Rapides Parish deciding not to allow their children to attend school in-person.

Alyssa Jones says safety concerns helped her decide to allow her daughter to attend school virtually.
Alyssa Jones says safety concerns helped her decide to allow her daughter to attend school virtually.(Source: Alyssa Jones)

“I understand the push towards normalcy but things aren’t normal yet,” Jones said.

She believes that schools are reopening too soon and there are too many unknown variables. That’s why she choose online learning for her first-grade daughter who attended Poland Jr. High School last year

“Our numbers are worse than when they closed schools for safety reasons the first time around,” she said.

While she says online learning is safer for students, teachers and parents, she understands it can be challenging for some person tasked to make this decision.

“I’m lucky, my kids in first grade. I may not have the most patience in the world, but I can teach how to read three-letter words,” she said. “If your kid is in ninth-grade and you graduated 20 years ago…it’s like homework but on steroids.”

Another obstacle that could preclude some families from selecting the virtual option is internet connectivity - especially for low-income families and those in rural areas.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that from 2014-2018 16% of Rapides Parish households did not own a computer. It also found more than 24% did not have access to the internet.

Jones says for many families this could be a cost they can’t afford.

“It’s prohibitively expensive, if you never had it before. It’s an extra 70-80 dollars coming out of a budget that you might not have.”

Alyssa Jones

Internet accessibility is a nationwide problem that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the spotlight.

“It kind of came of nowhere and schools just one day had to switch to online learning. It was an imposition for many districts and low-income families,” Stephen NooNoo, writer for EdSurge, said.

NooNoo researched how COVID-19 is creating an educational barrier that leaves some students whose families can’t access or afford the internet behind.

“We’ve seen statistics that show one in five teens can’t finish their homework because they do not have access to the internet,” NooNoo said.

He also said home internet has become a staple for a quality life.

”Home internet now is a utility, it’s not a privilege. We need to offer it as easily as we offer running water or electricity,” he said.

The Rapides School Board and others are trying to address that issue by supplying technology and trying to increase internet availability.

“We have to absolutely consider lack of connectivity as one of those equitable issues,” Rapides School Board Superintendent Powell said.

Powell said the school district can provide a device and connectivity for every student in Rapides Parish that chooses the virtual option, but that doesn’t eliminate the problem for all families.

“The issue that’s bigger than a school system is these particular rural areas where there is still no access to broadband internet and no cell towers are getting those families connected,” Powell said.

NooNoo encourages the school district to think outside of the box. He says some school districts across the country have “equipped school buses with wifi” to drive into communities so students can connect to finish school assignments.

While the solutions to this complex issue vary, parents still have to decide the best for their kids between two tough scenarios.

“My daughter is the most important thing to me. I’m willing to sacrifice anything to make sure we make it out of this healthy, happy and whole,” Jones said.

Copyright 2020 KALB. All rights reserved.

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