Parents and Teachers Discuss Digital Divide Hurting Students During Remote Learning

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Hartford education leaders and parents came together Tuesday to talk about an issue of growing significance during the pandemic - the homework gap and students learning remotely struggling to keep up because of the absence of internet and technology at home.

It's an issue leaders say must be addressed as children prepare to head back to school in this uncertain time.

"Having to go and sit in like McDonalds or other facilities just to get internet or even coming to Hartford Public Library…We’re grateful to be able to go in, but we also want to be safe," Raquel Cartagena, a Hartford Public Schools parent, told NBC Connecticut.

City and state leaders and Hartford parents came together to talk about this make or break issue in education during the pandemic - student access to the internet.

"Broadband access. High quality, high-speed internet is not a nice to have. It is a must have in 2020. It is as important as electricity," Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin (D) said.

"This whole pandemic just shed so much light on the inequities that are existing in our communities. I call it the have and the have nots," Vicki Gallon-Clarke of the Blue Hills Civic Association said.

Pointing to research from Common Sense Media, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said close to a quarter of Connecticut students don't have the internet access needed to learn online, a reality that needs to change.

"Denial of bandwidth is the denial of educational opportunity, just as surely as it would be closing a school door to a student," Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.

When COVID-19 shut down schools in the spring, education leaders and parents were sent into a frenzy to make sure kids could still learn.

Hartford's superintendent said the pandemic made it clear that getting a virtual education isn't so simple for every family, especially in the capital city.

"We acted quickly and deployed 11,000 devices to 60% of our students and we had the hot spots and all of those supports, there was still the reliability challenge that our families faced," Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, said.

The participants in the roundtable acknowledge that there's no simple solution. The economic hardship created by the pandemic coupled with the surge in need for connectivity created a perfect storm of challenges, but it's one the people gathered hope to fix.

"WiFi, internet access, it's critical, it's needed at this time. Parents are here, parents are on board," parent Daphney Romero said.

Blumenthal said he plans to continue to push forward legislation he's sponsored with the hope of creating a national solution to improve internet access for all of America's children.

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