Friday was the first day of school for Karen Cashio’s grandson, Riley.
However, everyone in Baton Rouge public schools was educated from the start until mid-August.
“He was delighted,” said the grandmother. “He was really happy. “
Riley is one of more than 1,300 children who transferred this year to EBR Virtual Academy, the only online teaching home this year for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. It is a school that has grown considerably just before the start of the school year on August 11.
He still has to catch up.
Getting anyone, anyone, on the phone at EBR Virtual Academy has been a continuing aggravation for Cashio.
“If they answered the phone and said, ‘We don’t know,’ that would be something,” Cashio said.
Finally on Thursday, unable to get the correct information to log into classes, Cashio emailed Superintendent Sito Narcisse and three other high-level administrators. She threatened to go public with her story. An administrator called her back and quickly installed her son.
“The issue was resolved within two hours of sending this email,” Cashio said. “It’s ridiculous. He hasn’t been to school until now.
On a trip to the beach in Florida last month, Jenn Oster followed the news home with growing concern.
While it appears Riley took longer to get into the virtual school than her peers, in many cases they haven’t been to school for much longer.
Hundreds of children at the EBR Virtual Academy, especially in the upper grades, received little or no education during the 13 days of school in August before Hurricane Ida shut everything down. Since the school reopened on September 8, after Ida, the situation has improved, but the problems persist.
Parents always complain about having trouble signing in to classes, getting Chromebooks, having someone by phone or email. Meanwhile, several classes still do not have a permanent teacher.
Diyaneka Scott’s daughter, Ma’Kayla, transferred to the EBR Virtual Academy at a school in St. Charles Parish this year, and things are still not going well.
“We don’t even follow her schedule when it comes to waking up early in the morning anymore because she hasn’t had a connection to the working Zoom class for weeks,” Scott said.
Scott said he has an unvaccinated newborn baby against COVID-19, which prompted him to decide to have Ma’Kayla virtually learn this year. But the mother has been disappointed so far with EBR Virtual Academy.
“I’m frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be any order and little to no preparation. It feels like the academy is taking off and there’s no plan in place, ”Scott said. “I asked for an update, no response. I am blind and I am afraid for my daughter’s learning and that she will not be able to catch up until this madness is resolved.
Sharon Williams, head of schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said communications and staffing continue to be challenges for the virtual school.
Regarding the communication issues, she said the location of the school was partly to blame. The school is located at 802 Mayflower St., formerly South Boulevard Elementary School, located on the outskirts of downtown Baton Rouge.
Williams said the old school hadn’t been able to handle the flood of incoming phone calls until recently. She said the school now has a phone tree, so calls are transferred to other lines, as well as additional phone numbers that people can call. In addition, some staff are given additional phones for field calls, and additional staff are added.
For families with tech challenges, the virtual school plans to launch an after-hours phone line on Oct. 11 if it can recruit enough staff to staff it, she said.
Regarding staffing issues, Williams said the district as a whole is understaffed and the virtual school is feeling this more acutely given the sharp increase in enrollment over concerns over the delta variant.
“It definitely took us by surprise,” said Williams. “We thought our environment with COVID would be in a better space as the school year approaches. “
The EBR Virtual Academy is actually two schools in one.
Elementary classes are led by district teachers, while secondary classes are dominated by instructors provided by Proximity Learning, based in Austin, TX. The problems in the secondary classes triggered the bulk of the complaints
Proximity Learning works with schools across the country. The school system started using Proximity at the end of 2017 in middle and high schools that were struggling to find teachers for some courses. This year, nine high schools are using Proximity.
In July, the school system added EBR Virtual Academy the workload of Proximity, and it is the only school where the company covers the vast majority of classes.
Williams would not blame Proximity for the virtual school’s problems, saying the company was a “very open and very communicative partner”.
“They are grappling with the same issues that we are, which is recruiting (of teachers) and the dynamics of rapidly increasing enrollments,” said Williams.
The only virtual option offered this year by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has seen significantly higher enrollments over the past …
At a September 16 school board meeting, district officials acknowledged many problems at the EBR Virtual Academy and said they hoped to fill the vacancies by the following Friday, September 24. Some jobs – we do not know how many – remain vacant.
On September 22, Proximity reported that there were still 36 vacancies out of 83 teaching positions in the virtual school. Friday, the school system had nine vacancies posted.
“We are both looking,” said Williams, “we recruit and hire as we find qualified candidates.”
It can’t happen soon enough for Jennifer Harding. Her son, Atticus, who is in sixth grade, only started receiving live instruction about two weeks ago.
“In the classes he teaches, they do a pretty good job, especially given the disruption of new students rolling on the reels,” Harding said.
These newly arrived students, however, slowed down classes, she said, and forced teachers to spend time orienting these students and teaching items over and over again.
Another sore point is mathematics, which she says is Atticus’ weakest subject. The boy hasn’t had a math teacher all year, and for several days not even a substitute teacher. Instead, students are expected to solve math problems on their own without the help of an instructor.
She said she plans to send her son back to Glasgow Middle, but worries about his delay.
“He’s at a huge disadvantage at this point,” Harding said.
‘I hope it will help you’
Karen Cashio said that Riley learns better virtually.
For years the boy had difficulty reading and writing and struggled for a long time in school. But he thrived last year when he learned from a distance while still at Woodlawn Middle.
In particular, he eagerly adopted talk-to-text technology, greatly improving his communication.
“He was excited about school for the very first time,” she said. “He improved in his schoolwork and as a person. “
She has said in some ways that she wished Woodlawn Middle had continued what she did last year.
“He knows his teachers and (the school) is just around the corner,” she said. “It’s not something I have to go downtown to get to it.”
At the same time, Cashio remains hopeful that the virtual academy will recover.
She said after Riley was able to enter virtual class on Friday, he threw his fist in the air in excitement.
She said she was speaking out so other families don’t have to waste as much time at school as Riley: “Hope this helps whoever is out there and lost and can’t reach anyone. ‘a.”