WASHINGTON — D.C. Public Schools had a three-year plan for a 1:1 student-technology ratio; ensuring that every child had a device. Then, the pandemic happened and DCPS said they adjusted the plan instead of handing out 10,000 devices to students in need.
Some advocates and parents said that wasn’t enough and want the D.C. Council to include $11 million in its budget to help speed up the process ensuring that all 51,000 DCPS students are ready for the school year.
“My biggest concern is his regression and whether or not he will be able to pick up the momentum to fill in the gap that this pandemic has caused,” Alimase King said.
Her 14-year old son has an Individualized Education Plan. She said he never received the tablet he needed during distance learning.
“We have laptops, but they’re for his college-going sibling, so he has to fight and make appointments to use their stuff,” she explained. “[The school] knew we needed one and I followed up prior to the closing of school, and they told me that they didn't have any more which was unfortunate.”
Alexandra Sambata is on the coalition and is a parent of a rising 3rd grader.
Sambata believes Mayoral control over the school system complicates the budget process. She said there needs to be more transparency to get the true picture of the digital divide.
“I think DCPS has the desire to serve all of their students,” Sambata said – who believes DCPS should sent parents another survey, “asking folks ‘Do you have a computer at home? ‘Is a vastly different question than, ‘Do you have a dedicated computer that each of your students has access to with internet access?”
D.C. Public Schools said they distributed not only 10,000 devices to students in need, but 4,000 hot spots.
A spokesperson said the Mayor’s $6.9 million investment – on top of the $4.2 allocated for schools – will meet the system’s needs.
“I don't have any faith in them. I'm sorry, but I really don't,” King replied. “I'll probably just buy a dedicated laptop out of pocket.”
“We really need our city officials to hold DCPS accountable now,” Grace Hu parent leader of the Digital Equity in DC Education Coalition said. “This isn't just about computer devices, right? It's about internet access and IT support. Especially, since we're hearing some of our Spanish speaking families and families that aren't that familiar with computers need IT support at home.”
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said DCPS leaders assure him there is enough technology to meet the needs.
Advocates said there’s clearly a disconnect because some students are being left behind.
“We’ve heard from people from Kelly Miller (Middle School) that about 170 students got DCPS computers, they had to scramble to get 65 more, but they have 572 students there,” Kent Withycombe from the Washington Lawyers Committee said.
As for King and her son’s needs for the fall, she’s cautiously optimistic.
“I'm bracing for impact, but I’m hoping for the best,” she said. The D.C. Council votes on its budget on July 21.