Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Access matters

Yesterday, MassLive noted the lack of home internet access among two groups of students: those in rural areas (still an issue) and those (of low income) in urban areas. MassLive notes how Springfield and Holyoke have worked with families on this:
At the beginning of every school year, Springfield and Holyoke families can purchase internet services through Comcast at a discount — $9.95 a month, with the option to purchase an internet-ready computer for less than $150. Households with school-age children eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, all households living in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-assisted housing and low-income veterans are eligible for the Internet Essentials program.
That's in addition to Springfield having a one-to-one program from grade 3 up, with high school students able to bring them home, and Holyoke having free mobile devices in their middle schools.

As for Worcester? While the push to do work online at the secondary level is the same here, there has been no district effort to work with families on home access; it's been years since the district even surveyed internet access, let alone device access. While the student in this AP article is in Hartford, her experience is something some Worcester students experience as well:
With no computer or internet at home, Raegan Byrd's homework assignments present a nightly challenge: How much can she get done using just her smartphone?
On the tiny screen, she switches between web pages for research projects, losing track of tabs whenever friends send messages. She uses her thumbs to tap out school papers, but when glitches keep her from submitting assignments electronically, she writes them out by hand.
"At least I have something, instead of nothing, to explain the situation," said Raegan, a high school senior in Hartford.
 In Massachusetts, requiring students to depend on family access without providing such access is in violation of a free public education. Per DESE guidance of November 2016 (note that's a doc; page 10):
1. Are schools obligated to provide students with a device if one is required for learning and instruction? 
Yes. Under Chapter 71, Section 48 of the Massachusetts General Laws, schools must purchase at public expense textbooks and other instructional materials and supplies intended for use and re-use over a period of years. Schools then in turn "loan" those instructional materials free of charge to students, who must return them at the end of the school year.
Costly tools such as a tablet or other computer or graphing calculator fall in the category of instructional materials and supplies that, similar to textbooks, are intended for schools to purchase and use and re-use over a period of years. If such technology is required, schools may encourage each student to purchase these devices. Students are likely to do so because they may need those devices for future classes and other use outside of school. Schools are advised to be prepared to provide such devices free of charge to students whose families do not choose to buy them or cannot afford to do so. If students need such devices to complete out-of-school assignments, schools must provide that access.
Students need such devices to complete out-of-school assignments in Worcester.

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