Bastrop students fall behind as district works through online learning challenges

Bastrop County

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — The Bastrop Independent School District said it is a challenge getting high school students living in rural areas to do the online learning planned by the teachers.

A Bastrop High School teacher told KXAN her students are falling behind in their coursework. She didn’t want to be identified because she still works for the district.

The issue, she said, is internet access. Nearly 70% of the district is considered economically disadvantaged. Some students don’t have access to smartphones or the internet, making online learning a challenge, if not impossible.

“They are marginalized, they are underserved already. They are on free or reduced lunch, that don’t have the income to have computers and smartphones. Those are the ones that we are not getting the work to,” the teacher said.

She said this is a problem that the staff has raised to administration at multiple meetings.

“If a teacher is willing to put together a paper packet or get materials to their students, its frustrating when your hands are tied and you are told no, that’s not the district plan,” she said. “The responses were always…we don’t have a plan to provide paper packets at this time. We have a plan to distribute laptops to students and we are ordering hot spots which will then be mailed out to students who have requested one.”

Since some families do have reliable access to the internet, this could potentially lead to a learning gap among the students. The teacher called that “grading privilege.” The effects would be felt in the Fall semester when some students are academically ahead of others.

BISD admitted it has not resolved the overall problem of connectivity, but it is trying.

We are very proud of the efforts we have made to reach all of our students. Being a district of 11,800 students across nearly 450 square miles, it has been challenging, but this is a testament to the hard work of our teachers, principals, counselors, and other staff.

Dr. Kristi Lee, BISD Communications and Community Services

The district handed out nearly 3,000 Chromebooks to students, but not strictly to high schoolers. There was also an order of 1,000 WiFi internet hot spots placed, but it was canceled after the vendor notified BISD that it wouldn’t arrive until the end of May.

Buses with hot spots will be deployed in mid-May to help with problematic areas. For the students who can’t be reached, paper packets will be sent out May 11 to be completed over the summer for credit.

The district wants to remind parents that they understand not all families have the same resources. Grading guidelines were developed to extend the most grace to students who are struggling.

Other districts work though distance learning

The Austin Independent School District turned more than 100 school buses into WiFi hot spots to help families who need support.

Wireless provider Kajeet gave out a $600,000 grant to make it happen. Those buses are parked at eleven locations and two elementary schools.

In Lockhart, 40% of the district doesn’t have reliable internet access. This month, the school board budgeted $450,000 to help.

The district is now providing internet service through seven towers — four will be built using board-approved money.

In May, Lockhart will install routers in the homes of students who live where towers already exist. Once the new towers are built, the same will happen in those areas. The project should be finished by the start of the 2020 school year in August.

In the meantime, the district redirected the internet and WiFi services to parking lots on campus. The district used Spring Break and the extra time off to find out where it had issues to address.

“We made sure we communicated with parents during those two weeks. We got up on the landscape we had with the technology we had in the district and didn’t have accessible to all of our students,” said Dr. Stephaine Camarillo, LISD’s Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction.

Do you have an education story idea or tip? Connect with KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello on social media or send him an email at alexc@kxan.com!

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