Digital divide leaves thousands of kids behind during remote learning

As parents and public school students settle in for remote learning this school year, many others in our state are being left behind during the pandemic.

The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction shared startling numbers that show tens of thousands of kids still don’t have access to the devices and connectivity they need.

The Fleming family in Arlington is doing their best to learn from home without getting on each other’s nerves.

“Every morning I write everybody’s schedule out,” said mom Stephanie Fleming who has 4 kids learning from home.

Thanks to her local school district everyone has the devices they need, she says, but remote learning has been a steep learning curve for everyone.

“It’s not fun. Some of my kids are good with it, some are struggling worse than others,” she said.  

“Truly I think that with covid going on the digital divide is not getting better,” said Lily Bordelon from InterConnection.

The non-profit began handing out donated and refurbished devices to low-income families in April, but that is only half the battle as connecting to the internet for many is still a challenge.

“It’s definitely a barrier for a lot of families, said Bordelon. “If you can’t connect to the classroom it’s not much use.”

Data compiled by OSPI estimates about 73,000 students still need devices and approximately 190,000 need a device, reliable internet connections or both.

The Flemings are getting by but might need to upgrade their internet which only costs more money. As they struggle to stay on-task they are holding on to hope that a return to in-person instruction happens soon.

“It’s hard,” said Stephanie. “They want to get out of the house and they want to get away from each other.”

Bordelon says InterConnection is asking for donations of old laptops in working condition to help get them into the hands of kids who need them.

Late Thursday afternoon a spokesperson from OSPI shared information with Q13 News detailing how it plans to help local school districts and families struggling to afford technology and service to ensure remote learning is accessible for more kids.

Using CARE Act funding, the agency plans to offer low-income students internet access through the end of the school year. School districts that had already entered into agreements with local ISP’s may be reimbursed using the same funding.

For those without access to computers may benefit from the Digital Equity Initiative that provides devices, hot spots and tech support.