A photo circulating of two young California girls relying on Taco Bell’s free Wi-Fi to complete their homework assignments has concerned local residents and reignited worry that the ‘digital divide’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In August, a number of schools across the country kicked off the year with virtual lessons that saw of children experience their first day of classes over a computer screen.
Many administrators scrambled to create feasible curriculum that could be taught uniformly during in-person classes, online lessons or both.
But a photo shared to social media last week highlighted the plight of students who don’t have immediate access to internet, broadband or technology – raising fears that some students may get left behind academically.
The picture, originally shared to Instagram by user Ms_Mamie89, explained that the two girls arrived to the Taco Bell on Alisal Street in search of internet connection.
A photo shared to Instagram showed two young children in Salinas, California, sitting outside a Taco Bell so they can use the free Wi-Fi for homework (pictured)
‘These 2 young girls were looking for a place with WiFi to do their school work so they sat near Taco Bell to connect to the free WiFi,’ the user wrote.
The two girls are seated near a dumpster, with their laptops out and notebooks on the concrete ground, completing their homework as two employees stood nearby.
‘A lot of us don’t have to worry about having a proper WiFi connection or a quiet place to work from home. Every student from preschool through college should have free access to reliable WiFi especially now,’ the user added.
The state of California has been labeled a COVID-19 hot spot for the last several weeks as a concerning uptick in cases and deaths was recorded.
In Monterey County, where the city of Salinas is nestled, officials have recorded 7,591 confirmed cases and 55 deaths as of Friday.
Those numbers contributed to the 693,839 infections and 12,834 deaths amassed in the overall state of California, which was the first state to implement lockdown orders under Gov. Gavin Newsom and re-opened on May 18.
Since then, cases have continued to steadily rise and Newsom was forced to re-implement some quarantine restrictions as recent as last month.
Newsom ordered indoor operations for several businesses, including fitness centers and places of worship, to close in 36 of the Golden State’s most overwhelmed counties.
And now, those pandemic factors have exacerbated some student’s ability to obtain adequate education resources.
Technology inequality has continued to be a problem nationwide for a plethora of school districts, but the pandemic showcased a significant hurdle in distance learning.
The Salinas City Elementary School District, one of the largest in Monterey County, identified the children as their students.
The switch to virtual learning has left some children without adequate resources as their families may not have internet or broadband connection
One student attends Sherwood Elementary School, and the other is a student at Los Padres Elementary School,’ The Californian reports.
The Salinas City Elementary School District said in a statement that they were aware of the photo and had provided resources to those children.
‘Our district became aware of a post that is circulating on social media early this morning,’ wrote Richard Gebin, public relations officer for the Salinas City Elementary School District.
‘We immediately identified the students belonging to SCESD, and since then, have provided the family with a hotspot so that our students can safely access classroom instruction from home.
‘We are aware of connectivity concerns and we have placed additional orders for hotspots to address the digital divide.’
Board President Amy Ish also acknowledged the digital inequality experienced by students in Salinas and neighboring areas.
‘The digital divide is very clear and delays in receiving needed technology are a statewide concern, we are grateful the state is making technology a priority and look forward to receiving these hotspots in our district,’ said Ish.
The school district is asking families to contact their school sites if they face similar problems with digital resources and distance learning.
Families who need internet access can contact their child’s school Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 3:30pm.
Pictured: Children wait to enter the school building on the first day of in-person classes in Orange County at Baldwin Park Elementary School in Orlando, Florida
But according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as other reports, closing the gap will take more than providing hot spots.
‘Low-income households have lower rates of in-home Internet connectivity compared with higher-income groups,’ the agency wrote.
‘Connectivity rates are particularly low among HUD-assisted renter households, who are also more likely to depend exclusively on smartphones and other handheld devices to access the Internet in the home.’
Money and economic standing were listed as some of the main reasons families lacked internet connection.
‘Eighty percent of respondents to the 2015–2016 ConnectHome baseline survey who lacked Internet access at home cited Internet costs as one reason they lacked in-home Internet access, and 37 percent cited device costs,’ the agency wrote.
The Public Policy Institute of California reported that in 2017 that ‘gaps persist for low-income, less educated, rural, African American, and Latino households.’
‘Between 54% and 67% of these households had broadband subscriptions in 2017, compared to 74% for all households.’
The agency added around 16 per cent, or 945,000, of students in California had no internet connection at their home in 2017 and 27 per cent, or 1.7 million, did not have broadband.
Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo expressed his concerns over Twitter last week and called for officials to ‘do better’
Former California Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leόn also commented to add that 40 per cent of Latinos in California reportedly do not have internet access
Ed Source, non-profit journalism website reporting education in California, found in May that around 1.2million students did not have computer or broadband access for distance learning.
While school districts have attempted to provide enough resources for families, local officials have called for more action.
‘2 of our children trying to get WiFi for their classes outside a Taco Bell in East Salinas!’ wrote Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo on Twitter.
‘We must do better & solve this digital divide once &for all for all California students.’
Former California Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leόn shared the sentiment on social media by pointing out that Silicon Valley, a multi-million dollar hub for tech giants, sits just an hour away.
‘This is California, home to Silicon Valley…but where the digital divide is as deep as ever. Where 40% of all Latinos don’t have internet access. This generation deserves better,’ he said.
Users on social media expressed their fears and concerns that children in California did not have adequate digital resurces for class
Pia Glenn: ‘My mind goes to those with fewer resources first and it genuinely breaks my heart. Mainstream schooling ain’t never been “fair,” but I fear this hurdle may seriously hinder some ferociously bright minds’
Residents also expressed their outrage on social media, with many of them pointing out the disparities some low income and rural students face daily.
‘This country has to do so much f****** better. How in the world can Bezos have as much $ as he does when we have this?? It makes no sense,’ wrote Reagan Gomez, director of award-nominated short film ‘Surviving.’
Broadway actress Pia Glenn said: ‘This is exactly what I think of when I imagine mandatory online schooling.’
‘My mind goes to those with fewer resources first and it genuinely breaks my heart. Mainstream schooling ain’t never been “fair,” but I fear this hurdle may seriously hinder some ferociously bright minds.’