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How Philanthropy Can Support Local Solutions During School Closures (Webinar Recording & Notes)

Publication date: 
Thursday, March 19, 2020


  • Celine Coggins, Grantmakers for Education (Moderator)
  • Dr. Debra Duardo, Superintendent of Los Angles County Office of Education  
  • Dr. John Garcia, Chief Deputy of Strategic Partnerships and Innovation at Los Angles County Office of Education  

Webinar Recording

Three Takeaways 

  • One of the most significant needs identified by 80 superintendents is making sure that students and families have access to the resources they need for online distance learning, specifically a device and a connection to the internet. Many low-income, foster or homeless students do not have access to these resources and are at risk of missing instruction if at-home instruction is needed long-term. 
  • Currently, LACOE is using resources to feed students by providing grab-and-go meals and pickup services. However, districts are looking to partner and coordinate with nonprofits to provide more basic needs services to communities. These services could include providing access to things like food for entire families, other essential items (i.e., diapers, feminine hygiene products, etc.), and health services for more vulnerable communities (i.e., undocumented parents afraid to ask for the support).  
  • Because philanthropic dollars are more nimble and fast-moving, funders can support districts by funding items that may not be covered by government funding. This can include funding for student devices and connectivity, setting up support hotlines for parents, extra staff capacity, basic need services at school sites, etc. Funders can also support by being flexible with their own grant applications or sharing available grant opportunities with districts. 

Three Actions You Can Take Now

  • Connect with the Los Angeles County Office of Education via email and Twitter if you would like to give to a district and need guidance on where it would be most impactful. 
  • Share a grant or funding opportunity with a local district. 
  • Connect districts with a nonprofit looking to provide other basic services to students, children, and families. 


Celine Coggins: We recognize that this is an incredibly important time for students, especially those that come from under-resourced backgrounds. We know that much of the response to this crisis needs to be local, not just in serving students’ educational needs but also in serving their basic needs that are often met by schools. Now is also a crucial time to focus on equity issues and how we can support our most vulnerable students and families impacted by the outbreak. To do this, we are having a locally based conversation with John Garcia and Debra Duardo from the Los Angeles County Office of Education. 


Q: What are the biggest challenges and disruptions this outbreak has caused for students, youth, and families?

Dr. Debra Duardo: The Los Angeles County Office of Education oversees 80 school districts as well as early childhood providers representing 2 million students and youth across LA county. Our districts, on very short notice, had to figure out how to work in a different mode. It’s been challenging, but we hold daily calls with all 80 superintendents to find out what’s going on, what’s working, and where we need to support them. These are the current most significant challenges we are facing: 

  • Making sure that our most vulnerable kids and families have access to the resources they need for instruction. A large number of families don’t have the devices they need for instruction or the ability to connect to the internet. Ensuring connectivity is one of the biggest requests we are getting from all 80 districts. Districts need more support getting devices and connectivity to their low-income, foster, and homeless students in order to move to online for instruction. Currently, a lot of districts are doing the best they can by providing standard-based instructional packets or using television. Still, because this is going to be longer than we anticipated, we need to move to an online learning modality. We also need to provide professional development to all of our teachers. Educators need support in creating lesson plans for online instruction because many haven’t had the opportunity to practice teaching online. 
  • Feeding Children & Families: We are continuing to feed children, and most districts are doing a grab-n-go/curbside pickup. Right now, equity is vital to us as we provide services to the children and families that need it the most, specifically those that qualify for free or reduced lunch that are in foster care or who are homeless. In terms of food and security, we are currently fine with our funding to feed students who fall under the free or reduced lunch program. However, these children have parents and other people not attending schools that may not have access to food or other items like diapers, feminine hygiene products, and other essential items. We are also concerned about the high number of undocumented families who are afraid to come forward for support or to get health services if they’re feeling sick. 
  • Providing Childcare: We’ve also gotten requests to provide childcare, which has been incredibly difficult. We’re trying to figure out how to meet this need while maintaining the safety of our children, teachers, and employees who may fall under the high-risk category. 
  • Mental Health Needs: We are also considering the mental health needs of kids. Parents are struggling with kids at home and really need more structure and support around behavior and how they can suddenly be the person that supports their child’s instructional day. We’re looking at telehealth and asking our counselors to make themselves available for children and families. 

Q: What actions is the LACOE taking to support the range of needs in Los Angeles during this crisis moment? 

John Garcia: LACOE oversees a range of districts of different sizes, scopes, and autonomies, and includes LAUSD, the second-largest district in the nation. As a county organization, we are trying to provide guidance, oversight, capacity, and support. Here are the actions LACOE is taking: 

  • Supporting 80 superintendents in LA County: We are hosting daily teleconference meetings with superintendents and responding to their requests around special education, accountability, testing, online distance learning, early child care, the latest state guidance, recommendations for districts, and nonprofit partnerships. Our cabinet is also meeting every single day to figure out how to support districts. We have a 24/7 hotline for superintendents to use as a resource with people to answer their questions. We are also working closely with the State Superintendent of Instruction in CA to make sure he’s aware and understands the needs of LA County schools. 
  • Working Closely as Liaison to the County Department of Public Health: If a district were to have a reported case of COVID-19, we want to make sure they can get in contact with the right individuals in public health. We have people on-site there representing the county to ensure we have direct coordination. They can provide guidance to districts as they see any cases emerge. 
  • Working Closely with Superintendents to Gather Information: We want to know who is offering school meals, what teachers and staff are reporting to schools right now, what essential items they need, etc. We also want to know if districts are offering distance learning, if so, are they doing that online, using work packets, doing remote teaching, or partnering with Google Classroom?  We want to know what are their methods for delivering that instruction and how we can support them. 
  • Surveying Superintendents to Determine What They’ll Potentially Need Long-Term: We want to get a sense of what districts will need in this current situation, but also what they may need if the situation goes longer. Our Governor mentioned the possibility of our school-going online the rest of the school year. If there are long-term distance learning needs, what do those look like, and what are the support structures needed to do that?  In the situation where things do get better sooner, what might schools need as they reopen? You can imagine there’s going to be lots of requests for cleaning supplies, medical health resources, counseling services, and, of course, ways to get students caught up. How do we make sure our most affected students are not missing days or a year's worth of instruction? 
  • Created the Superintendent Advisory Council: We have 10 Superintendents in LA County who signed up to help us understand precisely how we can be more responsive, how they’re addressing their needs in real-time, and what they’re doing in the long-term. They will also help us shape a plan to support districts as they move forward with things like online learning and meal services. We also want to know if they’re engaging in community hubs and outreach activities and if there are ways nonprofits can help provide basic needs to kids and their families. 
  • Incorporating Charter Schools: Charter schools are also providing instruction and resources to students and families, and we want to make sure they are getting this information so they can respond in real-time. We are working with their authorizers in that space to relay information to make sure that they feel included as they support students and youth. 
  • Partnering with Philanthropy and Nonprofits: We had a call with California Community Foundation, United Way, and LAUSD to discuss how we’re thinking about partnering with nonprofits and what funds are currently available. Our local community foundation is putting together a response fund for COVID-19, and United Way has put out its own fund for supporting homeless and vulnerable populations. But we’re not just looking for philanthropic support; we’re also trying to boost our capacity to serve districts. We need coordinated help for communication and partnerships with nonprofits to provide more basic needs services to our school sites. Lastly, we need more touchpoints with corporations who have technology resources for our students or that have the technical expertise to support educators who need online learning support.


Q: What is helpful action by local philanthropy? 

Dr. Debra Duardo: Some restrictions prevent districts from spending government dollars in certain ways. It also often just takes longer for some purchases to go through the district's systems. We are hoping to use philanthropic dollars in a way that’s more nimble to help us meet this crisis. 

  • Philanthropy can help us make unrestricted purchases: It takes a while for districts to make bulk purchases through the government. Philanthropy can help us move more quickly by helping us buy things like laptops for our students. We also have new needs that aren’t covered by public monies, such as setting up hotlines, ensuring connectivity for instruction, and ensuring that all families have access to food and health services. Philanthropy can help identify where there’s a gap and move quickly to address them. 
  • Philanthropy can help us coordinate our efforts: We’ve already started the process of bringing in various nonprofit organizations to help us leverage our resources and provide the most amount of services to our kids and families. We would like to continue developing collaborative groups across the country to coordinate basic needs services. Additionally, we need extra capacity to pull together information, collect data, and create communication campaigns around public health, online distance learning, etc. We would love to partner with an agency to help us organize everything as we run around to help kids and families. 
  • Creating & Sourcing Flexible Grants: Funders can help by creating grants with less stringent applications or restrictions. We need this kind of support and empathy as we try to do what’s best for our students and youth. We also need help sourcing these funds/grants. As they pop up, we’re hoping to share that with our districts as soon as possible. We’re trying to support districts, in addition to the work we’re trying to do. 
  • Making a Donation: We want to make sure we are not using flexible philanthropic dollars on items the government is already funding (i.e., government-funded meals for kids). LACOE is happy to be a liaison to funders interested in making donations to ensure efforts aren’t duplicative and that it goes to the most urgent need. 


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