From the moment schools closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that many areas were unable to support their students from a distance. They are just not ready for distance learning. A large part of the reason is that too many students lack enough WiFi access to participate in virtual classrooms.

Cases like Cayla J. v. California Department of Education in 2020 allege that schools in the state did not provide adequate distance education, violated the constitutional rights of children of color, and accused the State Department of Education for failing to provide better WiFi select Than visiting the local taco bell.

It’s time for states to step up and realize that proper technology and WiFi connections are a prerequisite for public school districts, and the state’s policies are seriously lagging behind. Although the system may not continue to operate as a 100% virtual school in the post-COVID world, in this increasingly digital world, better access to learning technology is no longer a negotiation.

Ideally, the hybrid education model can provide important opportunities for personalized learning, from special education students to students in rural areas who do not have enough wireless connections at home. To better understand the issues and strategies for improvement, let us review the current state laws regarding the provision of technology and WiFi access, check how they fail to meet the requirements, and propose policy changes to better support K-12 distance learning.

Overview of technology and WiFi supply law

The laws of each state differ in the way they currently address (or do not address) the need for distance and blended learning resources, and no two sets of laws are the same.

First, some states lack laws on what connectivity should be provided for education. An example is New Jersey, where Erica Hartman, director of technology integration for the Morris School District in New Jersey, stated that New Jersey requires schools and school districts to submit a weekly “survey on how many students lack equipment and/or WiFi” to the state government. Despite this, no new regulations have emerged for this data collection.

Then, some states lacked laws before 2020, but began to pass new legislation to respond to home learning requirements to meet future needs.In Arizona, the House Education Committee Launched HB2421, A bill allowing schools to offer distance learning courses. According to the proposal, the school can apply for a “reimbursement fee” to pay for the course fee, which is collected from the school district or charter where the student is studying.

Finally, some states have enacted certain versions of laws before 2020 and have begun to add provisions to better meet the needs of distance learning. For example, before COVID-19, Section 12100.8 of the California Public Contract Law only dealt with online learning in the context of remaining technology and non-profit computer laboratories.But the decision makers proposed to the state legislature on February 19 Parliamentary Act No. 1560, And proposed to add a part aimed at “bridging the digital divide in California.” These new amendments require state inspectors to investigate educational institutions to understand student access to computing devices and broadband connections. After that, the superintendent and educational institution will provide equipment or WiFi resources for students in need accordingly.

On the federal side, schools and districts do have authorizations.Federal Communications Commission E-Rate planIt is a K-12 broadband subsidy that provides school districts and libraries with a way to get discounts on WiFi connections. However, these resources are limited to students who leave campus and are by no means fully or fairly utilized.During COVID-19, the FCC and the Ministry of Education have cooperated to distribute $16 billion in interstate funding from Distance Learning Education Stability Fund under the CARES ActInternet Service Providers (ISPs) have been working with schools seeking to use CARES Act funds for distance learning. The question is whether the FCC and the Federal Ministry of Education will continue to support WiFi supply once the students return to the physical classroom.

Even if there are laws designed to address the digital divide between devices and WiFi, they are not always effective.

Leon Tynes, an Arizona high school technical teacher, said the language in the law may be ambiguous. For example, in California’s 2022 Education and Public Contract Code, a component states: “The Superintendent shall establish standards to determine which students are eligible for computing equipment under this section.” This term and wording, namely “standards” and “Qualified”, universal enough that all powers are given to managers to decide more detailed details about the standards for issuing computer equipment, such as how the equipment will be distributed and by whom. Without clear and concise language, the law is no longer a requirement, but more a guideline.

However, perhaps the most insidious is the fair distribution of resources.Current state and federal policies fail to hold school districts responsible for ensuring that all students have the resources they need, and Allowing an alarming funding gap between the richest and poorest school districts in the country.

Why policy changes are needed-and what can be done

Now that the pandemic is waning and schools are returning to school in person, are these really important?

A group of education leaders said yes. The obvious lesson from the pandemic is that technology can improve learning and teaching, and students in K-12 schools are not well prepared for the digital world.

In Morris County, New Jersey, Hartman expressed her concern for students; she knew that “equipment can bring a better learning experience”, but was frustrated that the state education department did not provide devices with built-in WiFi. Back in Arizona, Leon Tynes responded to her point: “Every school district is not as prepared as other regions to provide the necessary elements of distance learning.”

Students of color and/or from low socioeconomic backgrounds are the ones who suffer the most. Tynes, who teaches computer science, believes that “we have integrated microchips or CPUs in the design of almost everything we use or touch in the United States.” This means that students who do not learn creative technology, rather than just consume it-will Be left behind.

Jennifer E. Dolan’s 2016 study “Splicing gap“Before COVID-19 reached the coast of the United States, the problem was solved with data, which shows that wealthy students with more work skills become “active producers of technology”, where they create spreadsheets, design digital stories and Publish online writing; in contrast, their less affluent peers become “passive consumers” and they engage in drill-and-kill exercises that focus on standardized testing requirements. This means that they are less familiar with the technical skills in the workplace.

So, what can legislators do to solve the problems we have discussed?

To this end, let us turn to actual practitioners and researchers for answers. First, policy makers should agree and determine that the use of 1:1 devices and broadband Internet is the basic right of all students-as necessary as food and safety.According to a The latest report from the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA)Among them, researchers conducted a survey of American public high school principals during the peak period of COVID-19, and widespread use of broadband has become a “necessary prerequisite for learning.” However, student groups use equipment and WiFi more equitably Need for substantial increase in public fundsOnce technical access is confirmed as a right rather than a privilege, this situation is more likely to happen.

Second, in order to better understand current needs and constraints, policy makers should establish closer ties with local individuals, from parents to teachers to managers like Ellen Dorr. Dorr is the CTO of the Renton School District in Washington State; given that she is close to Renton’s family, she has observed problems with the state’s proposed grants and privatization of ISP products. “The WiFi products provided to families come from private companies,” she said, “but There are many regulations that qualify them. Therefore, policymakers have a huge opportunity to conduct focus groups and research with the community to develop flexible policies that “remove the barriers created by these programs”, beyond what the FCC and E-Rate currently provide range.

Finally, state agencies should work together—within states and across borders—to draft and adopt new policies quickly and efficiently. In August 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Executive order National institutions are required to work together to bridge the digital divide, but there are no clear instructions for enacting new laws. What if these efforts are used in actual legislative formulation? In addition, cross-state cooperation can enable policy-poor states such as New Jersey to learn from the ups and downs of recent COVID-inspired legislation such as California’s 1560 Congressional Act.

COVID-19 has had a profound negative impact on the K-12 space, widening the learning gap, and pushing teachers and students to the brink of exhaustion and frustration.

However, COVID-19 also provides an opportunity because it reveals a huge gap in policy related to the supply of technology and infrastructure-Many people now call it a civil rights issue.

Ellen Dorr of Renton School District put it best, saying: “The demand is not new; the pandemic highlights the magnitude of the needs and challenges.” COVID-19 may be difficult, but maybe it can Bring better policies to ensure fairness in access to technologies that are still vital to all K-12 students.

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