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Remote learning? Not for kids in shelters with no WiFi.

April 2, 2020 Scott Enman
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More than 1 million New York City students were supposed to have started remote learning as of March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but more than a week later, some children are still without the technology they need to access their classes and are falling behind their peers.

Some families living in shelters, for example, were given a device — either a computer or tablet — but have been unable to access their online courses due to a lack of WiFi.

Brooklyn Councilmember Mark Treyger, the council’s Education Chairman and a former teacher, said this situation is representative of larger issues plaguing the city’s students.

“This is highlighting some of the depths of inequity that we’ve already been experiencing in the school system,” Treyger said. “People living in shelters are really, really struggling connecting to remote learning. The issue is very real. There are children who are falling behind; there are children that will be weeks behind their peers.”

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He added that the city has a franchise agreement with AT&T to provide free WiFi in Central Park, and yet the city’s most vulnerable students cannot access internet in shelters.

Councilmember Mark Treyger. Photo: Treyger’s office

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza estimated that 300,000 devices would be needed for remote learning. The Department of Education admitted that not all of that equipment would be ready by March 23 and that they would be staggering distribution over the course of six weeks.

DOE spokesperson Isabelle Boundy said her agency, as of Monday, had distributed roughly 175,000 school-based devices to students in need, and that any families who need one should fill out the Remote Learning Device Survey on the department’s website — though that would, of course, require internet access too. (Families unable to access the survey can call 718-935-5100.)

“When we made the difficult decision to move to remote learning, we immediately got to work on a device distribution plan that put students in temporary housing at the top of the list, and beginning last week, we’ve been distributing LTE-enabled iPads to students in shelters,” Boundy said.

NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza speaks at a press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic at City Hall on March 16, 2020. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Schools are reportedly distributing paper packets to families in the interim.

Spectrum and Optimum have offered free service for K-12 students taking part in remote learning, but that has come with some caveats, according to Chalkbeat. Spectrum is only offering free internet to new customers, who will then be billed after two months. Optimum is only giving out free service to customers who do not have outstanding payments.

In addition to a lack of internet access, Treyger said some families with multiple kids have been given just a single device, making it nearly impossible for all of the children to access their courses at the same time.

Parents with their own devices, who are now forced to work from home because of COVID-19, have also not been able to lend their devices to their kids for remote learning.

“[DOE] will keep highlighting on Twitter examples to where remote learning is working or has started,” Treyger said. “Yeah, that might be the case in certain school communities that had access to resources, that had the ability to distribute technology on day one.

“But many families don’t have technology on day one. For many school communities, they don’t have a Parent Teacher Association that can raise them over $1 million and make sure every single classroom is filled with adequate tablets and laptops.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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