Central Virginia students lacking high-speed Internet access need help

Abigail SpanbergerCentral Virginia students with a lack of reliable high-speed internet access face additional challenges in accessing and completing online assignments.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va. is leading an effort calling for strengthened guidance to students, parents, and educators in rural areas as schools close in response to the coronavirus.

Current guidance from the CDC recommends that if schools are dismissed, educators should consider implementing e-learning programs to fill gaps in education time. Central Virginia educators and parents have expressed concerns for students who live in households without reliable access to high-speed internet.

In a letter sent to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee, Spanberger led 30 of her colleagues in pressing the U.S. Department of Education to develop a plan to help local schools better mitigate the effects of unreliable internet connectivity on students and parents.

Additionally, the letter requests that House Appropriators include language in fiscal year 2021 appropriations legislation requiring a report on how students with unreliable internet are impacted during extended closings caused by public health crises, like the coronavirus pandemic.

“Student success should not be determined by zip code, and at a time when schools need to be focusing on keeping their children safe, families shouldn’t be forced to worry about how their children will be able to keep up with their peers because of a lack of access to broadband,” said Spanberger and her colleagues. “The language we request here will help put parents, students, and their schools at ease by ensuring that the Department of Education has a plan to help impacted schools better mitigate the effects of broadband connectivity issues as they pursue courses of action to keep their students safe.

“The coronavirus pandemic has forced schools across Central Virginia to take necessary precautions to protect our students, teachers, and staff. And as our hardworking teachers are working to develop new lesson plans, many of our students face connectivity challenges at home that can make it difficult to keep up with these online assignments—at no fault of their own,” said Dr. Eric L. Jones, Superintendent, Powhatan County Public Schools. “Additional guidance on best practices for dealing with a lack of reliable internet access would be greatly appreciated, and I’d like to thank Congresswoman Spanberger for bringing attention to this issue.”

“Virginia PTA members are extremely concerned about the infrastructure inequities across our school systems, and the coronavirus perfectly highlights the digital divide that already exists for many students and their families,” said Jenna Alexander, Vice President of Advocacy, Virginia PTA. “Virginia PTA would like to thank Congresswoman Spanberger for her leadership on this critical issue of opportunity and educational equity.”

Specifically, Spanberger’s language would require the Department of Education to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, CDC, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to produce a public study detailing the impacts of broadband connectivity gaps on the abilities of schools to implement alternative education plans.

Additionally, the legislation would require the U.S. Department of Education to develop a plan to lessen the impacts of these educational inequities in the future.

Spanberger co-led the letter with Rep. Stacy Plaskett, D-U.S. Virgin Islands.

Click here to read the full letter.

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