School survey finds students lack home internet; schools not sure about PPE

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 812 views 

About 30% of Arkansas school districts and open enrollment charter schools expect that more than one-fifth of their students will take courses offsite this upcoming school year. But many students don’t have sufficient internet access at home, and 20% of respondents don’t have sufficient digital devices for their students.

Meanwhile, only 32% of respondents were sure they had enough personal protective equipment to start the semester.

Those were some of the results of an online survey of 238 school districts and 25 open enrollment charter schools conducted by the Arkansas Department of Education.

The survey was sent to school districts July 24 with results requested by July 28. The department followed up with schools that had not responded. As of July 31, 250 of the 263 educational institutions had responded.

The survey found that 237 respondents will offer virtual learning opportunities, while 61 said they will offer a hybrid or split schedule. Respondents could choose both.

The online option will be chosen by large numbers of students. Seventy-five respondents, or 30%, said more than 20% of their students were choosing an option other than full-time onsite instruction. Another 93 respondents, 37%, said 10-20% were choosing one of those options. Fifty-one respondents, 20%, said 5-10% of their students were choosing one of those options.

However, schools will face challenges in meeting those needs. Seventy percent of respondents said students at their schools do not have the required internet connectivity at home. Thirty-nine respondents, or 15.6%, said more than 40% of their students lacked home internet connectivity, while 44 respondents, or 17.6%, said 30-40% lacked connectivity.

Only 48 respondents, 19.2%, said 10% or less of their students lacked home internet connectivity.

Meanwhile, 20%, or 51, said their districts lacked sufficient devices to start school Aug. 24, 25 or 26 under the Ready for Learning Plan for re-entry.

Kim Mundell, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Education, said the survey is “intended to be a living document.” Districts can change their responses as they become more prepared for schools to reopen.

Districts have been using federal funds to address their technology shortfalls. Earlier this year, the state received almost $129 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. Those funds are part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by federal lawmakers in March. Twelve respondents had spent more than $500,000 in ESSER funds to purchase technology, while another 29 had spent between $250,000 and $500,000.

Meanwhile, 156 respondents said they had spent up to $50,000 in ESSER funds to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE). Others had spent more. The Little Rock School District was the only district to say it had spent more than $500,000 on PPE. Five districts had spent between $250,000 and $500,000: West Memphis, Bryant, Rogers, North Little Rock and Fort Smith.

But only 80 respondents, or 32%, said they had adequate PPE to complete the first semester, while 54 said they did not and 110 were not sure.

One hundred seventy-five said they had adequate masks to begin the school year Aug. 24, 25 or 26, while 29 said they did not and 43 were not sure. Similar numbers said the same about having hand sanitizer. Almost all, 244, said they would provide face coverings.

Also, 51.6% said they will be screening students as they arrive, while 76.2% said they will be screening adults.

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