By LaKeshia Myers
While states debate the probability of shuttering their “safer at home” policies, one key constituency is yet again left behind, school children. With the 2019-20 academic year abruptly interrupted—many teachers and students were left to fend for themselves. Lack of disaster planning forced schools into a frenzy, hurriedly switching modalities from the brick and mortar comfort of traditional classrooms to the unknown galaxy of digital learning. Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams, Webex and Google hangouts have been used in recent weeks as a stand-in for interpersonal relationships. Schools are now food distribution hubs, feeding communities in a time of crisis, the temporary fix has worked in some ways and exposed our inequities in others, but what remains to be seen are the plans for the future.
What has become evident during this crisis is that schools will be forced to update their modalities. Whether public or private, most schools aren’t equipped with the necessary technology to provide adequate academic instruction in a digital format. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when the district learned that COVID-19 would close their schools, Melanie Harris, the district’s Chief Information Officer immediately sought to provide chrome books for each of the district’s 130,000 students. Harris was able to purchase 40,000 new laptops, and also distribute the district’s other laptops.
According to Education Week, the School District of Philadelphia was lucky, because districts across the country are, “scrounging and competing against each other, tooth and nail in some cases, for every device available during the mass-remote learning movement unfolding as a result of coronavirus facility closures” (Rauf, 2020). Education experts see this as the next frontier in education; some referring to it as the “educational arms race”.
While adequate devices are only half the battle, the other is internet access within the home. Several programs available through internet service providers Spectrum, Comcast, and AT&T have programs for low income families (usually around $10 per month). However, a stipulation of receiving the service is that the parent cannot have an outstanding bill. This is something the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus is actively working to change. It is not just an issue for families of color, it is an issue for all indigent people who need quality internet access. Internet access at home is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. Most, applications for assistance are online, as are job applications, unemployment insurance, and even higher education.
Before we move to “reopen Wisconsin” we need to ensure that all of the groundwork is laid for the next school year. We need to ensure the logistics work; will schools will utilize half day schedules for students in order to maintain CDC guidelines for distancing? How we can lower class sizes to meet the needs of students and teachers while remaining safe? Whatever we do, we cannot forget about the children.