As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, schools across America scrambled to respond. This fall, many K-12 school leaders opted not to resume in-person instruction as the public health risks remained too great. The resulting nationwide shift to online learning has posed many challenges for school districts and families, particularly those in lower-income and rural communities without high-speed internet access. Currently, some students are going to extraordinary lengths to access a Wi-Fi connection, even sitting in the parking lots of fast-food restaurants or on the stoops of closed schools and libraries. Vulnerable K-12 students are also experiencing penalties for not logging on—including disciplinary actions—which serves to widen achievement gaps among U.S. students.
On November 9, the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings hosted a webinar on what the coronavirus pandemic has taught us about the digital divide in America’s schools and how the lack of access during this time may result in stifling the social mobility of students left offline. Expert panelists discussed key lessons learned and highlight the most effective emerging strategies to secure a safe and quality education for every child, even amid a health crisis. Panelists also discussed how federal, state, and local policymakers should be working together along with philanthropies to address digital disparities and alleviate some of the burdens on students, families, and school districts.
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