Unprecedented school closures in Illinois caused by the coronavirus pandemic have left many school systems with a major challenge to improve e-learning methods.
Schools are closed statewide through at least April 7, with the possibility of more extensions. Of particular concern is Chicago Public Schools, where a majority of students are considered economically disadvantaged, lacking proper devices or inadequate internet access at home, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Of households within the boundaries of CPS, about 14% didn’t have a home computer and 24% lack a broadband internet subscription, according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data.
Rather than wait for officials to act, parents and teachers have taken matters into their own hands, including a public video plea on Twitter from the principal at Passage Charter School in Andersonville asking for donations of laptops or tablets.
“We serve mostly immigrant and refugee students, and we have a real need for devices for online learning,” Principal Jeremy Riggs said in the video. “There is a huge equity issue for me. In order for all of our kids to have access, we need some help."
CPS officials say they're doing “whatever we can to help bridge the digital divide” for the district's 355,000 students. The Board of Education unanimously approved a $75 million coronavirus spending proposal that will be used for a new “device equity strategy.”
Some internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T have all taken measures to help, including adding free broadband internet for two months for new low-income customers.
“We’re seeing really strong interest in the offer,” Comcast spokesman Jack Segal said in an email. “We’ve been doing outreach to schools and school districts, veteran-serving organizations and partners that work with seniors to make sure low-income households in our footprint know and are doing our best to help as many people as we can get online.”
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said while the district is spending more money on resources, they are also working with elected officials to leverage support.