The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in testimony to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) hasn’t provided BIE-funded schools with guidance on distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GAO stated that in March 2020, BIE issued a memo directing schools to “deliver flexible instruction” and “teach content,” but did not offer specific guidance on how this could be done. In a survey that GAO conducted in July 2020, 13 of 25 schools that responded said they wanted BIE to “provide information on developing and implementing distance learning programs.”

By August 2020, BIE issued a re-opening guide for the 2020-2021 school year, but the guidance provided little information on distance learning. While BIE helped students gain access to internet service at BIE-operated schools during the pandemic, many of the students didn’t receive laptops for online learning access by the end of fall 2020.

“Providing schools with comprehensive distance learning guidance will help them better navigate the current pandemic as well as potential future emergencies that lead to school building closures,” said GAO in its Senate testimony dated April 28. “[Department of Interior] officials said a nationwide IT supply shortage contributed to the delayed order for about 10,000 laptops. GAO found, however, that delays were also caused in part by BIE not having complete and accurate information on schools’ IT needs,” the government watchdog agency said.

GAO made two recommendations to BIE in the testimony, including: providing comprehensive guidance to schools on distance learning; and establishing “policies and procedures to ensure it has complete, accurate, and up-to-date information on schools’ technology needs.”

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