In mid-June, almost 2,000 educators, organizations, and community leaders signed their support for a remote learning bill. This bill, the Remote Learning During COVID-19 Initiative, calls on Congress to finance $5.25 billion in technology, broadband, and cybersecurity for students across the country. As the back-to-school season approaches, schools and families alike must decide which course of action is the safest and most beneficial for students’ health and academics.
Public schools have already suffered throughout the pandemic, and the financial future of many of these institutions is uncertain. Kenya Bradshaw of The New Teacher Project fears that this economic uncertainty will further the divide between private and public schools, as well as the gap between students at individual institutions. Kenya Bradshaw lists inadequate air filtration systems and budget constraints as critical factors in schools’ decisions to open their physical doors. While the CARES Act allocated $13.5 billion for local schools and programs, for many schools across the country it is not enough. Almost 60 percent of parents are reluctant to send children back to school. Alternatives must be considered so that every student’s academic experience is positive, whether it occurs at home or in a classroom.
Rightfully so, there is a focus on investing in industrial-sized hand sanitizers and bacterial wipes, and other PPE. However, schools are having to prepare not only for returning students and staff safely for in-person, traditional learning but also offering remote learning as well. The reality is, even with money from the CARES Act, schools will continue to struggle. Institutions with increased levels of socioeconomic disparity amongst students must ensure equity.
Schools in poverty-stricken areas should not have to choose between the necessary cleaning supplies and staff to keep up with increased health and safety protocol and continued investment in digital conversion. These are the schools that may go remote for the foreseeable future. However, these are also schools where students have the greatest need for reliable internet access and devices—even schools hoping to implement “hybrid learning” need to be able to support students equally.
The Remote Learning During COVID-19 Initiative calls for broadband connections to low-income households, digital device access, and cybersecurity upgrades for school networks. Such a bill would complement the E-Rate program, which reached its 2019 funding cap.
Schools should not have to choose between safety and success. Remote learning support could alleviate the stress of that decision and allow schools to remain flexible in their back-to-school strategies. Forcing schools to open and focus only on the students’ health and safety in the halls will only expand the gap between students who can afford to attend and students who cannot.