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In Spring Break Update, LAUSD Superintendent Says ‘Normal Is Not Returning Anytime Soon’

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner addressed the district community in a message streamed on Monday, April 6, 2020. (Screenshot of LAUSD website)
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In a Monday address to the school community, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner dedicated most of his remarks to the ongoing challenge of distance learning.

“Equity shouldn’t have to mean abandoning all students equally – it can mean giving all of them the same tools and access to realize their talents,” he said.

The district is dedicating $100 million to helping close the digital divide, Beutner said, including distributing devices. The first wave prioritized high school students, and Beutner said devices and internet hotspots “should reach all elementary schools by May as devices arrive from supply lines around the world.”

As a reminder: LAUSD has said campuses will be closed until at least May 1, though Los Angeles County Superintendent Debra Duardo recommended last week that the county’s 80 school districts -- which includes LAUSD -- keep their campuses physically closed through the end of this school year.

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In his Monday remarks, Beutner did not specify whether LAUSD campuses will follow that recommendation, but he did say “it’s clear that normal is not returning anytime soon.” He said the district will address “what the rest of the 2019-20 school year will look like, including things like graduation and financial aid assistance for college, as well as plans for the summer,” when it returns from spring break next week.

In the meantime, the district is focused on providing students “with the best possible learning in this environment,” though there are challenges. Beutner said tracking attendance online is hard, and “it’s more difficult to measure engagement and progress remotely. Merely logging in does not tell us anything more than the student turned on their computer.”

He also said Schoology, one of the online platforms the district uses, will need the intervention of “a major tech company” to support the rapidly increased number of users.

Beutner said serving English-language learners and students with special needs through distance learning is another area of concern.

“This will be our greatest challenge as the technologies and teaching practices are not as well-established in these areas and there may be some students for whom there is no good substitute for face-to-face contact.”

Beutner also provided updates on district efforts to support students during the school closures, including a mental health hotline (“We are working to use video to connect the counselors with patients and expect to begin using that shortly.”) and ongoing grab-and-go meal distribution (“About two-thirds of the meals are going to children and one-third to adults, no questions asked.”).