More than 340 teachers — members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) — joined with parents, students, and other community members this week to send a letter to Oakland Unified School District Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff demanding they take “all necessary measures” to provide Oakland students with access to the internet, according to a press statement.
“We demand that the Oakland Unified School District and the City of Oakland immediately arrange with internet providers to provide free universal internet throughout the city,” according to the teachers’ letter.
Emphasizing the importance for internet access for all students at this time, OEA President Keith Brown said, “There is no equity in education for our most vulnerable students if all Oakland families do not have access to the internet. “In some flatland schools, between 25-50% of our families have little or no access to online classwork.”
Added Patricia Segura, a teacher at Oakland’s Fremont High School, “Nearly a fourth of our Fremont High students do not have access to the internet. This makes distance-learning a problem of equity. It is unfair for students and we need a city-wide solution quickly.”
OEA has launched a social media campaign of #internet4all to raise awareness that during the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access is a human right and must be extended to all families. According to the demand letter, “in the absence of internet for all students, distance-learning is a lie.”
Teachers have learned that a large number of students attending Oakland public schools in East and West Oakland have little or no access to the internet. Now that OUSD has unrolled its “distance learning” program and teachers are expected to conduct online classes, this means that many students in the city’s high-needs communities will have great difficulty accessing their classes and doing this work.
There are reports that attempts by parents to purchase internet services have also failed. According to Judy Greenspan, a teacher at United for Success, a mother of a 7th grader said that she spent over an hour on the phone trying to set-up an account on Comcast, only to be disconnected and told that she had to go online to apply for the service. She eventually found out that the company was not scheduling any more in-home appointments.
“Programs like Xfinity/Comcast and AT&T have long wait times, aren’t taking appointments, require credit cards or other resources that undocumented families cannot provide, or promise one free month of access only to later start charging families for a service they can’t afford. Surely Comcast, AT&T, and other providers can do better by our community,” according to the teachers’ letter.
While the district offers to drop off paper worksheets packets to families without internet access, “paper packets are in no way a substitute for connecting with teachers and resources online, especially since the situation evolves rapidly and will likely continue through the summer and into next school year,” the letter said. “Failing to provide internet access for everyone will only stretch learning gaps.”
To view the letter, go to https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XtQ9yZxFA63HLX83V8xKiorNTSHe79F-jkw4eIW-vD8/edit