Internet access becomes a growing concern
Reports at Monday’s Union Parish School Board meeting show 184 students enrolled in the district’s Summer School programs. The majority of those students, 120, are at the elementary school. High school (19) and middle school students (45) make up the rest.
The program is a virtual summer school, with meetings held online. For families without Internet, or with inadequate service, packets are given and teachers will call twice each week to check on progress. Reports show enrollment is up from last year.
“I do have a concern with how we’re going to do this,” UPSB President Shannon Barkley said following the meeting. “It’s (lack of Internet service) a major problem. We’re going to do the best we can.”
Barkley said when the self-quarantine first began, several churches in the parish offered the use of their Internet service for student use. “That was great, but we’re so rural that what we then realized was we had a transportation problem.”
With parents working many students had no way to get to sites where Internet was readily available.
Rural Internet has been a national topic. The big shift to home-based work and schooling during the coronavirus means Louisiana more than ever needs to bring Internet service to all parts of the state, according to Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell.
“Nothing is more important for rural parts of our state than high-speed Internet,” Campbell said.
Louisiana is in line to receive an estimated $600 million in federal government aid over the next 10 years to spread broadband to “un-served and underserved” rural areas.
“High-speed internet is my number-one priority for North Louisiana,” Campbell said.
The FCC has allocated $20.4 billion to be spent nationwide over the next 10 years, with the first phase beginning in October of this year.
State Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the Rural Caucus of the Louisiana Legislature, has been appointed to a new commission designed to extend broadband Internet service across the state.
The lack of reliable In ternet service, particularly in rural areas, has created problems for school systems attempting to have on-line classrooms and for students trying to complete class assignments during the COVID-19 crisis that closed schools. “Rural Louisiana has been underserved for years because Internet providers say it’s not profitable to extend broadband to less populated areas,” Turner said. We’re tasked with working around that.”
Barley also announced that four candidates for new Superintendent of Schools will be interviewed this week. Two were interviewed Tuesday evening and two more are set for Thursday. There was a fifth candidate, but not all necessary information was available so that candidate will not be interviewed.
Last week the UPSB held an online public comments meeting, allowing members of the community a half-hour to give input on what they felt is important in the next supervisor.
“We listened,” Barkley said. “We know what they are expecting from us.”
Information coming from that meeting did show a breakdown for the district schools by race.
UP Elementary School is 55 percent black, 30 percent white and 15 percent other in the makeup of its 661 students.
The high school’s 843 students break down to 55 percent black, 32 percent white and 13 percent other.
So, for the 1,504 combined students, the UPSD is 55 percent black, 31 percent white and 14 percent other. Downsville Community Charter School is part of the UPSD, but is not governed by the school board. Its makeup is 94 percent white, 2 percent black and 4 percent other.
“Those numbers do play a role,” Barkley said about the percentages factoring into the superintendent equation. “We’ll meet with the candidates and do our best to do what’s best for everyone.”
The next UPSB meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 13.