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March 26, 2020 - WASHINGTON – In a letter, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) on Wednesday asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to do more to help rural school districts Josh Harder congressman californiawhose students lack access to reliable internet at home. During the outbreak, all schools in Rep. Harder’s district have ended in-person instruction, including Knights Ferry, a rural elementary school district that educates many students who don’t have reliable internet access in their homes. As schools across the country continue to close or stay shuttered, access to distance learning will become even more important – especially in rural areas.

“Every kid in America deserves the same level of access to education through this crisis – regardless of whether they live in a big city or a rural area,” said Rep. Harder. “We want to make sure the federal government is doing its part to help provide these kids with the tech infrastructure they need.”

“Small, rural schools like Knights Ferry need support to get internet access to all children. Nothing so far, except local efforts by myself and staff have impacted our internet access,” said Knights Ferry Superintendent Janet Skulina. “The federal government must provide monetary relief for schools directly for the purpose of providing internet access and distance learning to all students. The federal government must also understand that geography will dictate the quality of the services, and offer incentives to providers to make the actual service itself more reliable in remote areas.

Many residents of Knights Ferry and other small rural districts lack access to a stable internet connection. Some areas simply lack the infrastructure and people in other areas cannot afford an internet connection.

Knights Ferry School District proactively asked parents in the district about their access to the internet prior to the district’s closure. Although most families did have at least some internet access, many students who live near the school have no access at all. Those students who did not have reliable access were provided with physical materials to complete and an alternative communication channel to stay in touch with their teachers.

The text of the letter is below and an original copy is available here.

Dear Secretary DeVos,

We are at a critical juncture with the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and its impact on our health, economy, and educational system. As such, I write today to seek answers on how the Department of Education is planning to support our schools and ensure that they are equipped to serve their students and families as schools issue closures and move to online learning models.

Both counties in my district – Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties – have closed their K-12 schools, and the only two higher education schools, Stanislaus State University and Modesto Junior College have switched to distance-learning models.

Early on in my term, Knights Ferry Elementary school in Stanislaus County didn’t have internet access. While I was happy to see the school finally get access last year, many of its students still lack reliable internet access in their homes. Nearly 12 million students nationwide don’t have reliable broadband in their homes, and neither do 27% of rural Americans. In a situation like this, the students of Knights Ferry are left behind without guidance or resources from the Department on how to succeed in an online learning model without reliable internet access. This is also true of students in other rural areas across the Central Valley. California’s Stay at Home Order and closure of many public spaces has made technological solutions even less accessible.

It is crucial that you develop guidance and procedures that consider the needs of students who live in rural areas and have limited internet access. We must ensure that states, localities, and educators have the resources and information they need to include every student in their plans to continue their programming during the crisis.

To that end, I request answers to the following questions:

  1. How will the Department make it a priority that students without internet access or the necessary equipment to participate in their school’s curriculum get those resources – whether in the form of mobile hotspots, laptop computers, or anything else they require?
  2. Will the Department ensure schools and Local Education Agencies have the support they need to create alternate modes of instruction that is as high quality as possible without compromising safety?
  3. How are parents, who will be more crucial than ever in guiding their children’s participation in education, have the information they need to make sure their children continue to succeed?

Thank you for your department’s efforts during this crisis, and I look forward to working together to mitigate the effects of the Coronavirus on student learning and achievement.
Source: Representative Josh Harder