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JCPS Participation in Remote Learning Is High, But Not At Every School

J. Tyler Franklin

Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) is seeing relatively high rates of participation in nontraditional instruction (NTI), as schools have moved to remote learning while buildings are closed during the pandemic. District data provided to WFPL News shows that while most schools have participation rates above 90 percent, schools with higher numbers of students who face economic or language barriers are more likely to have lower participation rates.

Economic barriers

District data for the first two weeks of NTI show that overall 94% of students participated in NTI.  That's higher than rates being reported in other metropolitan school districts around the country.

"Participation" means that a student had at least one interaction per week with a teacher or school staff member. That could be a message, a phone call, an email or participation in a Google Hangout. While the vast majority of schools have participation rates above 90%, there are a few schools that appear to be struggling to reach students.

At Zachary Taylor Elementary, staff reached just 71.9% of students in the first week, and 83.4% in the second week. At Western High School, 80.8% of students participated in week one. In week two, Western's participation dropped off to 74.9%. (Scroll to the bottom for a full list of schools and their participation rates.)

Analysis by WFPL News of JCPS schools shows the higher the percentage of students on free or reduced-price lunches, the more likely those schools are to have a lower participation rate. The analysis was done on participation data for week two of NTI.

"It's not surprising that that is the trend," JCPS chief academic officer Carmen Coleman said in an interview.

Research shows a major digital divide across the country, including in Louisville. Lower-income families are less likely to have access to the Internet, or a computer, and that creates a barrier to participating in NTI, which is offered online. JCPS sent out 20,000 Chromebooks, but it's still not enough to close the gap, especially for families who don't have broadband Internet at home.

Students can also pick up paper packets at JCPS' emergency meal sites, but there may be barriers to accessing those resources as well, such as a lack of transportation.

Students without Internet access are supposed to receive phone calls from school staff.

"Our schools are doing everything they can to reach their students," Coleman said. But sometimes, she said, contact information is not up to date.

"A lot of times at school, we get phone numbers and contact information for families, and it doesn't work," she said.

Coleman also said that low rates of NTI participation could be the result of a data entry error on the part of teachers.

Language Barriers

Analysis of participation data for week two also shows that schools with higher percentages of English Language Learner (ELL) students are more likely to have lower rates of participation in NTI. Coleman said some immigrant families could fear interacting with school or district employees, or providing contact information.

"Those families could be afraid if they're not documented," she said. "That could be challenging."

Anecdotally, one teacher told WFPL News that reaching ELL parents has been more challenging. On top of a language barrier, immigrant parents sometimes have less access to technology, or less comfort with using it.

The district says it is providing interpretation in many languages for families who call the 313-HELP line.

Find your school's NTI participation rate below. In an email, JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy said the data is "preliminary" and "may continue to change as schools continue to enter data." The data was pulled on Thurs., Apr. 23.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.