OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A coalition of parents, community members and more than 340 teachers represented by the Oakland Education Association union called on Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to guarantee internet access to all students in the district.
In a letter to the two officials, the group of educators argued that while internet access is a necessity even in normal times, students who lack internet during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic will be unable to participate in remote classes and will inevitably fall behind their peers who do have internet access and the requisite technology.
The group called on the district and the city to arrange a partnership with internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast to offer free in-home internet service to the homes of Oakland Unified School District students.
The group also demanded that the city work with internet providers to create a timeline to offer free public Wi-Fi citywide.
“There is no equity in education for our most vulnerable students if all Oakland families do not have access to the internet,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “In some flatland schools, between 25-50 percent of our families have little or no access to online classwork.”
According to the teachers, nearly a quarter of students at Fremont High School lack internet access while 25 percent of students at Elmhurst United Middle School and 32 percent of students at Global Family Elementary School cannot access the internet at home. Last week, Johnson-Trammell estimated that roughly 17,000 students in the district lacked a computer, internet access or both.
The district has made efforts to shore up those deficits by providing homework packets for affected students, but the group of educators said those are no substitute for online learning resources and connecting with teachers in real time.
“This makes distance learning a problem of equity,” Fremont High School teacher Patricia Segura said. “It is unfair for students and we need a citywide solution quickly.”
Schaaf estimated last week that the district and the city would need to conjure at least $12.5 million to afford the technology students districtwide need to participate in distance learning during the pandemic. The district and city would then need an additional $4 million annually to maintain that technology.
The district, city and the Oakland Public Education Fund have raised upwards of $1.5 million for general pandemic relief, including providing meals and groceries to low-income families as well as required education technology. The trio has set a $4 million fundraising goal to begin making inroads on the technology deficit.
The group of educators, parents and community members called on Johnson-Trammell and Schaaf to respond to the letter by Wednesday. A district spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter.
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