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San Diego County bridges digital divide for start of school year

Posted at 2:55 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 19:56:34-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The San Diego County Office of Education is bringing solutions to families without internet access to start the school year.

The “digital divide” was already in place before the pandemic. With an increased reliance on distance learning and working from home, it’s only gotten worse.

Before coronavirus, 1 in 5 students in San Diego County were under-connected or not connected at all.

Chief Technology Officer, Terry Loftus, with the County Office of Education is working to help fix that.

“If the parent had an Android phone, that qualifies as connectivity, but it’s not broadband and it doesn’t meet the needs of distance learning,” said Loftus.

The COE is stepping up to the challenge of bridging the digital divide that plagued about 100,000 families.

“Approximately 36,000 of those were South and East county,” said Loftus. “Or our districts that have people on the Free and Reduced Meal Program and haven’t had access in the past.”

Many families can’t afford cable or wireless connections, or were forced to cut the cord after losing their jobs.

Others live in more rural areas where that connection isn’t possible.

So, they’re adding satellite solutions and distributing hotspot devices.

“The 5,000 devices that are going out in the next week or two in that initial order, zero are being paid for by families,” said Loftus.

There are also options for undocumented families and those who don’t want to share personal information to secure a connection.

“To get that service without having to give details about their financial background, immigration status,” said Loftus.

Most of the new connections are coming at no cost to parents or students thanks in-part to money from the CARES Act.

The COE is also working with legislators on Senate Bill 1130 that would build new infrastructure in communities that need it.

They’re in the process of surveying families to see who still needs connectivity as their programs are rolling out. They plan on getting those numbers back next week.

For more information on the available programs, click here.