Apr 29, 2020
Over the past few weeks, school systems across Sonoma County — and across the country — have faced an unprecedented challenge: pivoting from a regular school year to at-home learning with only a few days to prepare. While some systems have begun implementing comprehensive home learning plans, many are still struggling to connect students with reliable internet access, a critical aspect of an effective distance learning model.
In Sonoma County, the issue of internet access disproportionately affects our rural/remote districts. Students in districts like Horicon, Two Rock, and West Sonoma County Union High School District are often unable to access online curricular materials and academic support resources, can’t engage in synchronous class experiences with teachers and fellow classmates, and can’t take advantage of critical mental health and social-emotional learning (SEL) supports. Despite the offers of local wireless providers to make internet service low-cost or free, as well as the efforts of local agencies such as the Sonoma County Office of Education to help families take advantage of these offers, many of our rural communities simply do not have the network coverage needed to get online.
Digging below the surface in these and other districts reveals another troubling reality: low-socio economic status students and English Learners are hit hardest by this issue. One in three households that make below $30,000 a year lacks internet service, and a 2019 study by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that 78% of English Learners lack home access to the internet.
As a recent www.CalMatters.org article stated, “It’s impossible now to argue that connectivity is a 21st-century luxury. Millions of Californians require internet access to attend school, work, and stay in touch with loved ones.” And while the current situation has clearly underscored the need for K-12 students to have access, this is also a huge need for families with young children (0-5) and providers that work with young children as they try to ensure continuity of support and engagement with isolated and stressed families.
Sonoma County has an opportunity, perhaps even a moral obligation, to tackle this long-standing issue by leveraging public-private partnerships and the newly-granted flexibility tor epurpose existing funds for technology infrastructure to close this digital divide and make reliable internet access a reality for all students and families.
Approximately 400 students (25% of total student population) have no internet access.
Roughly 2/3 (45) of Horicon students have no internet access. In addition, three teachers have no internet access. Those who have internet access have very limited data and cannot reasonably access most online platforms at this time.
The majority of students don't have much, if any, internet access. The same is true for district teachers.
42 students (25% of the school population) lack internet access. ALL students who lack internet access are Spanish speakers.
75 students without internet access
125 students without internet, 750 with too slow to stream video content (and over 1000 kids not yet reporting)
Below is the contact information for three of the superintendents of the districts mentioned above. All of them are open to being contacted to further share how this issue is impacting students and families in their respective districts.
● Jeff McFarland
Horicon School District
● Betha MacClain
Two Rock Union School District
● Toni Beal
West Sonoma County Union High School District
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