Torres and Bronx families pressure mayor to deliver free Wi-Fi to low-income students

COVID-19 has exposed the digital divide in the educational system in NYC. As the Department of Education (DOE) handed out 300,000 laptops to students this past school year, many still do not have access to Wi-Fi.

In the spring, companies like Altice gave free internet for 60 days to any household in its service area that has a student in kindergarten through 12th grade and/or college. But now with school starting this month, those same families need Wi-Fi again.

On Aug. 27, Councilman Ritchie Torres was joined by Bronx families and educators as they demanded Mayor Bill de Blasio develop a plan to grant free Wi-Fi access to low-income students. According to the Mayor’s Office, 18 percent of all households in NYC do not have access to internet and 46 percent of the city’s households in poverty lack broadband.

“America’s largest school system will no longer guarantee an education for our children,” Torres said. “That is a profound betrayal of the 1 million students who call NYC home. The educators are doing the right thing; it’s the policy makers who are failing.”

In August, Torres sent a letter to de Blasio calling on him to put pressure on Spectrum and Optimum to provide Wi-Fi services to low-income families with school-aged children who cannot afford to pay through August 2021.

As hybrid and remote learning are about to begin, he questioned how students would get a proper education if they cannot access the Internet. Furthermore, many of these families, primarily those living in the Bronx, are in impoverished neighborhoods.

The councilman said the city has the power to leverage an agreement with the providers, so he is confused as to why it is dragging its feet.

“The denial of internet access means in practice the denial of an education,” Torres stated. “Requiring remote learning without bridging the digital divide is a cruel joke.”

Torres was joined by residents Gloria Alfinez and Lakisha Cooley, M.S. 45 principal Annamaria Giordano and Zeta Charter Schools Manager of Community and Advocacy Jessenia Espinal.

Alfinez said with three children at home, her family needs Wi-Fi. She noted it is not fair that wealthy families hire private tutors while those in the Bronx do not even have Wi-Fi.

“We cannot allow education equality to get worse,” she said. “The truth is parents should not have to choose between paying rent and getting their kids online for remote learning. We need Mayor de Blasio to help us. Help our children get the education they deserve.”

With school around the corner, Giordano is quite worried about her students. She recalled during the peak of COVID-19 she received numerous emails and phone calls from frantic parents saying they did not have Wi-Fi or could no longer afford it.

She added that the city must find a way to make the companies give free Wi-Fi again.

“My kids, my families and my students deserve to have the education that everyone else in this world has,” Giordano remarked. “We cannot wait. School is opening in two short weeks and students must be prepared. They have the right to learn regardless of their financial position. Mayor de Blasio, we are begging you to provide this paradigm service for all families.”

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