Thousands of New Jersey students still lack technology to participate in remote-learning
As September ends, new figures from the New Jersey Department of Education show 90% of New Jersey school districts are offering remote learning, at least part time. But thousands of students still lack the technology to adequately participate in remote learning, a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds.
For Stephanie Sanchez of Jersey City and her three children, remote learning often doesn't go smoothly. Sanchez requested two devices from the school district, since she already had a family computer, adding as a single parent, she's grateful the district was able to supply them. But there's a problem.
"The Chromebooks are slow," she says. "Sometimes I just say, 'log on with your cell phone' because that will have less issues with the videos."
Jersey City Assistant Schools Superintendent Norma Fernandez says, “We have enough devices on-hand, but not to give each student a new device.”
With school about to begin in Newark, Neoshi Baker was worried her kids would not be able to take part in remote learning, so she paid for three Chromebooks out of pocket.
"I have to tell the kids 'Hey, we can't have McDonalds because I had to buy you a Chromebook',” she says. "They don't understand the sacrifices that we're making as parents. They just see that life is normal to them."
Newark Schools Superintendent Roger León says, "Any family who has a student who needs technology should speak to their child’s principal or teacher because the technology is either available at their school or another school in the district.”
When schools suddenly shut down last spring, it exposed what education advocates call the Digital Divide: the gap between kids who have the technology to succeed at remote learning, and those that don’t.
"Technology is no longer something that's nice to have, it's essential," says David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. He contends that in an era of remote learning, devices and high-speed internet access should be provided to all students free of charge.
But it's difficult enough to get solid numbers on the scope of the divide. In July, the Murphy Administration estimated 230,000 students lacked devices for remote learning and pledged over $100 million in funding. Two months later, at a legislative hearing, acting NJ Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer admitted the department had no idea how many students needed devices and said its original estimate may not have been accurate.
"It's a very difficult question to answer because you're trying to get this information, which can be complicated, from parents directly," Dehmer said.
The story is similar elsewhere in the Tri-State.
In Hempstead, Long Island, more than half the district's students are unable to participate remotely because the district is still waiting for more than 3,000 laptops.
In New York City, the NYCDOE handed out more than 300,000 tablets, but it wasn't enough to go around.
In fact, during the city's all-remote summer school, 23% of students never logged on.
News 12 contacted the major internet providers in the area. All said that they offer reduced priced service to low income families, students or both - and in some cases partner with school districts to provide free internet access.