BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Students who attend schools in the Bakersfield City School District will again take part in distance learning as educators continue to try to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The trouble is, thousands of BCSD students lack internet access, requiring the placement of so-called hotspots around the district’s enrollment area. Well, those digital devices are still in the mail.
The BCSD provided thousands of its students with Chromebooks so they can do their lessons from home during this time of classroom closures. But those Chromebooks are just big flat paperweights without internet connections. Now, because of a delay in the shipment of hotspots from the district’s internet provider, that’s exactly what they are.
The district has been receiving the hotspots in batches of 5,000 — and so far not enough for all students to get on the same page in time.
So the BCSD will delay the start of school for a week, to Aug. 24. Classes had been scheduled for Aug. 17, but with many of the district’s 30,000 students in 15,000 homes unable to participate in the district’s virtual classrooms, the BCSD decided, at an emergency school board meeting Wednesday night, to delay the start of school one week.
Lack of access may seem like a minor issue to some, but research shows that issues with distance learning profoundly magnify the inequities between students from low-income and moderate-income families.
As a new Los Angeles Times survey of 45 school districts found, those inequities can worsen the wide and persistent learning gap that already exists in public education, especially among low-income students of color.
Mark Luque, the BCSD’s deputy superintendent of educational services, says the district cannot allow that gap to grow.
“This pandemic has brought out the great disparity in our local environment — the lack of connectivity for students in poverty,” he said.
One positive to come out of the mess: Students who might never have achieved any level of sophistication, digitally speaking, will acquire basic computer skills — skills perhaps as important in this digital world as the three R’s. Schools that have gone to distance learning could be creating future IT workers who would never otherwise have developed the ability.
“Definitely our kids are going to learn a lot from this process — our teachers as well,” Luque said. “Certainly I think the world is going to recognize how important technology is, and the importance of building our infrastructure.”
It’s not like the BCSD can open for business if those hotspots arrive the night before school is scheduled to begin. District employees will need time to put the devices in place and make sure they’re functioning before the digital school bell can sound.
And what if those hotspots don’t arrive at all before Aug. 24? Luque says the district has been assured “100 percent” that the hotspots will arrive on time on Aug. 24.
As of now, the one week delay means the last day of school for the BCSD is pushed back to next June 8.