Some teachers refusing to return to in-person classes in the fall as lawmakers work to address digital divide highlighted by COVID-19 pandemic

New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal met with school leaders, teachers, and parents Tuesday to talk about the lack of access to technology for students, while some teachers say they don’t think schools are prepared to safely bring students back into the classroom. 

“The homework gap is a matter of racial justice. Racial inequality is part of the digital divide because communities of color more often lack that access to the internet so kids can’t do their homework,” said Senator Blumenthal.

While school districts come up with a plan as the new school year approaches amid the pandemic, the senator said in some cases there might need to be a hybrid type of approach.

“Some students in the classroom part-time but reliance also part-time on digital connections on broadband connectivity which right now is lacking,” he explained. 

Teachers and parents added that the pandemic is underscoring students facing a digital disadvantage. 

Jaclyn Tolkin, a first-grade teacher in Meriden said, “I think that if a school district is going to say ‘distance learning is going to be done on a computer,’ then it is the district and the state’s responsibility to make sure that there are enough WIFI hotspots and free WIFI available to those students.” 

Tolkin is part of the nationwide “Refuse to Return” to classroom movement. 

“This movement is saying we, as teachers, need to let our building administrator and our superintendents know that we refuse to return to in-person class until our counties have 14 days of no new cases,” explained Tolkin. 

Tolkin says schools need to put safety and health first. 

“The state has not guaranteed that they are going to provide the appropriate PPE for students and teachers,” Tolkin said. “The state has not guaranteed that they are going to provide the resources for distance learning.”

Senator Blumenthal said students need the tools to learn from home: “The mantra ought to be ‘broad-band for all, broadband for all regardless of affordability.'” 

The Refuse to Return Petition has 43,872 signatures and their Facebook page has almost 6,000 members currently.

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