Give Them What They Need

Virtual learning is rough, but some help is on the way from federal dollars through the CARES Act and Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites.  Granted, the CARES Act funds will help all 1200 plus Texas school districts by reimbursing money already spent on laptops, tablets, and hotspots, whereas Musk’s Starlink will only be providing 90 families in Odessa with free internet.  But the broadband connection provided by Starlink is certainly a step forward and will certainly change the lives of those 90 families, and perhaps it will create a model for other internet service providers (or big businesses looking for charitable opportunities) to follow.

As of this week, almost 40 school districts in Texas have sought permission from TEA to close one or more campuses for more than 5 days, and countless campuses across the state have closed for shorter spans to disrupt a COVID spread and perform deep cleaning.  As cases skyrocket across the state and the nation, this trend will continue.  In fact, all of New York City’s schools closed to in-person learning just today.

School leaders have been waiting to face this inevitable dilemma—determining when to close a campus and for how long.  But a strong virtual learning foundation needs to be in place.  We learned last spring how important that was.  This year we’re doing much better, but certain facts remain: student failure rates are breaking records, and plenty of kids are not getting what they need.  There are plenty of reasons for this, but the biggest—and most easily remedied— is lack of access to internet connectivity and/or a reliable device.   There are families in Texas with multiple school age kids sharing one device (sometimes that device is the family smart phone), and others who must leave their home to find free wifi.  Many districts provide rolling hotspots via their school buses, but this may be provided for only a few hours a day or week—not exactly a game changer if you’re expected to be on zoom throughout the day or are trying to receive special services that are only available during certain windows in the school day.

Please know that I think our Texas school districts are doing a phenomenal job with an unbelievably hard situation.  But they need more help especially as they’re trying to do right by all kids while campuses begin coping with sudden closures, further exacerbating the inequity in access.  When schools abruptly close to curb viral spread, some kids will get left even further behind.  The resources to keep all students connected to the classroom exist—somebody just has to give them to them.

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