Louisiana public schools grapple with learning lost to pandemic surges and storms

Masked students at the Arthur School return to in-person learning after being impacted by Covid-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida. Photo by Taslin Alfonzo

PBS NEW ORLEANS: For April Vincent and her four young kids, trying to keep up with schooling has been an educational crisis, one calamity after another that has cost her family dearly.

Vincent quit nursing school and her job in March 2020 to get her kids through remote school, and watched as debts piled up. One of her daughters, then in fourth grade, struggled to learn virtually through a screen. Her two youngest children were suddenly without daycare, and distracted the older two from their work.

“It was very, very abrupt … you have to put everything you’re doing to the side,” said Vincent, a single mother.

When school returned, the difference in learning for her daughter, now in sixth grade, became clear. She’s thriving, Vincent said. But she worries about what her kids have lost. Her 4-year-old is having accidents during her naptime at school, and is struggling with what Vincent believes is anxiety — she’s afraid she’s going to get sick all the time.

“I am worried that they are behind. Playing catch-up, for all of us, will be really, really hard.”

“I am worried that they are behind. Playing catch-up, for all of us, will be really, really hard. I’m just trying to keep them feeling secure and feeling safe,” Vincent, 30, said.

It’s a story that is playing out for many parents in this phase of the pandemic — where some normalcy has returned, but so much has not — and is far from over yet. In Louisiana, pandemic challenges have been compounded by catastrophic hurricanes, flooding, and COVID-19 surges that have been among the country’s worst. Schools were caught off guard. They closed, and opened, only to close again. Nearly two years of classroom turmoil, virtual learning, and school closures have upended education for nearly 700,000 children enrolled in public schools across the state, in ways big and small.