The digital divide: equal access to technology for lower income students may present challenges this coming school year

RAPID CITY, S.D. — The digital divide; the disparities shown between our lower-income students, in Rapid City, compared to their peers when it comes to remote learning this school year.

Forty-five percent of the Rapid City Area Schools’ student population, nearly 7,000 students – at the poverty line.

What is the district doing to provide for these students, heading into a new school year and a new form of learning?

RCAS Director of Diversity, Equity Outreach and Federal Programs, Whitnee Pearce, says the school is doing all they can to provide equal access to resources and instruction to students.

“Obviously, education will never be the same,” says Pearce. “We have to identify that and know that’s an accurate statement and what can we do moving forward, to be positive, and not only give the best education but the best educational experiences so we can really have well-rounded children at the end of this.”

Providing the same quality of education for each student in an online learning platform may present challenges. Even in 2020, students may experience zero or limited access to broadband internet within their community.

Last spring, Vast broadband and Midco internet providers set families up with free internet services, so students could remain engaged in their learning. But that might not be an option this year.

Depending on what phase of their Back-to-School plan the district starts in, there may be thousands of students, whether they opted in or not, that will require these services.

“And we have to understand that our students coming from poverty may have other barriers that other students don’t have and so we have to look within our federal programs, and also as a whole district, on what we can do to help those students,” Pearce said.

School district’s also must consider the feasibility in their back to school plans.

Shane Daniel, RCAS Information and Technology Director, says in May the school board approved 4,450 laptops and cases to be distributed to three high schools at a cost of over $3 million. There are also tablets, already owned by the district, that could be viable substitutes for younger remote learners.

The district also purchased Canvas licenses, an online learning platform for high school students.  The annual cost being $4.95 per user in the high school. The district is also looking at Seesaw for its K-2nd students. In total, it equates to over $69,000 for the school year, to provide online learning platforms.

Governor Kristi Noem allocated $68 million in state CARES Act funds to schools earlier in the year, $5.7 million specifically for remote learning and professional development.

But if there aren’t more federal dollars awarded to schools for the fall, will there be enough for district’s to work with?

“We’re currently looking at what we do have and if something were to come down later, that would be wonderful, but at this point in time we are really just looking at what we have, the resources that we have, and how we can fulfill the needs of our students and our families.”

Categories: ConnectCenter1-Family, Coronavirus, Local News, South Dakota News

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