By Southwester Staff

By the time you read this, school will have started up again in The District and students will be back in classrooms. Not their typical classrooms, though. Instead, they will be returning the classrooms they finished the 2019-2020 school year in: their homes. 

At the end of July, due to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Muriel Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee announced that all DCPS schools would be virtual until at least Nov. 6., with the hope that schools can safely open up for the second term on Nov. 9. 

However, while students and their families will be safer from infection distance learning at home, the new normal for parents and students presents another major hurdle to fair and equitable education this fall: the digital divide.

The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to not only the technology required to succeed in the 21st century but also high-speed internet to effectively use that technology, and those who do not. Currently, 1 in 4 District residents does not have access to technology and broadband. This means that thousands of students will be left in the virtual dark this fall when distance learning starts. Furthermore, the digital divide disproportionately affects Black and Brown students over white students, with 27% of Black students and 25% of Lantinx students in D.C. not having quality access to the internet at home, if at all. Only 5% of white students are similarly affected.  

As Grace Hu, a DCPS parent, wrote in the June issue of “The Southwester”: Much of DC Public School (DCPS) curriculum, testing, and remediation programs are now online. Applying to jobs, city services, and maintaining many connections with our neighborhood, friends, and family are done online. Many independent reports show that high-speed internet access has a direct impact on jobs and the economy.

Earlier this summer, DCPS families were asked to fill out a survey detailing their technology needs for the upcoming school year, and according to city officials, 44% of the 13,000 families that filled out a survey indicated that they did not have access to a digital device, and 23% did not have access to a hotspot or reliable high-speed internet. Response to the survey was low, and ironically it was also online so the numbers likely do not reflect the actual technology needs in D.C.

In response to the lack of action taken by elected officials, D.C.’s Ward 6 Mutual Aid (W6MA) Network, Serve Your City launched the We Keep Us Safe Back to School Bash supply drive to help ensure more students get the resources they need to be successful with virtual learning this fall, and beyond. 

Maurice Cook, executive director of Serve Your City and an organizer with Mutual Aid, said, “We are putting together a truly comprehensive backpack that gives our Black and Brown students access to the same supplies that their white counterparts will receive or already have. These learning tools will empower our students to excel in school without worrying about the basics. It is unethical and immoral that our city leaders aren’t doing this already.”

Through donations, Serve Your City will provide students with backpacks that include a digital device, traditional school supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitary supplies, and some fun activities/surprises.To find out more about how to donate or get involved, visit http://dcbacktoschoolbash.com/index.html.

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