SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom talked about efforts that have been made to meet the needs of students in the state during the coronavirus pandemic as schools struggle with distance learning, particularly in bridging the so-called “digital divide” to lower-income families.


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The closure of schools across the state during the coronavirus emergency has been one of the most disruptive factors since the stay-at-home orders went into effect, with parents and teachers alike facing the challenges of distance learning with students stuck in their homes.

Newsom was joined at his daily update on the state’s response to the coronavirus by his wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to discuss the state’s effort to bridge that gap. Both guest speakers praised Google for initially stepping up to provide 4,000 Chromebooks and thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the state to help jump start the effort connect children in need with their teachers.

Siebel Newsom said that there was still much to be done in the effort.

“But for too many California kids, [having access to distance learning] is simply not the case. In fact, one in five lack connectivity or an appropriate device for remote instruction,” said Siebel Newsom. “And as a First Partner of California, I feel an incredible responsibility towards these kids and their parents who are doing everything they can to keep their families housed and safe, and seeing to it that they have food on the table, all while ensuring their kids continue to learn. The fear these parents have that their children will fall behind without internet access and devices is very real.”

In addition, Siebel Newsom said a recent study found that about half of low-income families and 42 percent of families of color in California were anxious about the prospect of so-called distance learning during the pandemic because they lacked a home computer.

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Thurmond thanked the governor and his wife for making the call to action to businesses and individuals to contribute to the cause.

“We talk all the time about how we must meet the needs of our students during this pandemic,” said Thurmond. “Having the tools to learn from a distance are critical. Nothing replaces the importance a great teacher, but these tools connect our kids to teachers and our kids have to have them. And our digital divide has happened, has gone on longer than this pandemic, and it’s been something that we’ve dealt with for decades.”

Thurmond also said that the state has created a task force that would focus on closing the digital divide. He will co-chair the task force with state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino. The group is expected to meet for the first time Monday at 4 p.m., which will be broadcast on Facebook.

The governor said that 70,000 Chromebooks, Surface tablets, iPads and other digital devices were being donated by major companies to provide to students in need.

Newsom said that another player in the effort to increase connectivity capabilities was being undertaken by the CPUC. The governor said that the state was setting aside $25 million to fund the CPUC’s setting up of wi-fi hotspots plus an additional $5 million towards the agency’s procurement of laptops to be provided to those in need.

Newsom noted that — given the high level of interest among the public in when the state might be taking steps towards reopening — on Wednesday he’ll have more “clarity” on when the current stay-at-home restrictions may be lifted by looking at the six previously outlined categories.

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The governor said the state’s officials COVID-19 death toll climbed to 1,208 with 42 more reported dead on Sunday. The numbers were lower than the previous day’s total, but hospitalizations were on the increase by 1.9 percent and the number of ICU patients increased 2.8 percent in last 24 hours.