Coronavirus Impact: Newsom confirms schools won't reopen, race is on to bridge digital divide

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- As distance learning becomes common practice, many question what is being done to bridge the digital divide.

On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom confirmed schools across California will stay closed through the academic year. Many students have already adjusted to online learning, but the move is making it difficult to reach others without necessary resources.

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Even in Silicon Valley- the center of tech and innovation- educators are trying their best with the tools they're able to offer.

Some might think student access to tech is typical throughout the region. However, local educators say that is not the case.

"I always tell people it's like going to Universal Studios," Martin Cisneros explained. "Where you see, 'Oh, here's Silicon Valley! Look at all this wonderful stuff.' But when you look behind, not all districts are created equal."

WATCH: Full interview with Martin Cisneros
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"I always tell people it's like going to Universal Studios," Martin Cisneros explained. "Where you see, 'Oh, here's Silicon Valley! Look at all this wonderful stuff. But when you look behind, not all districts are created equal."



Cisneros is the Director of Technology at Berryessa Union School District in San Jose.

He said the district has already deployed close to 1,000 Chromebooks to students who need them.

"The team developed a survey that went home and asked, 'Do you have connectivity? If you do, do you have a computer that you can use at home," Cisneros said.

Only one-quarter of the school district responded to the survey.

"We're now looking to vendors, whether it's T-Mobile, AT&T," Cisneros told ABC7 News. "Even some local parents who have their own companies are now coming out saying, 'We'll do this for free for the next few months, and it'll help you, it'll help me.'"

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Similar action was taken by SFUSD, as students in San Francisco received Chromebooks on loan to help with distance learning.

However, providing a gadget won't make a difference if students don't have connectivity.

"We're now looking at vendors to see 'How can we get hot spots?' We're looking at solutions about: How can we radiate the WiFi that we have at different schools," Cisneros explained.

On Wednesday-- the State Superintendent of Public Instruction announced $100-million in funding will go to local educational agencies.

In a release, Superintendent Tony Thurmond said, "I am very grateful to the members of the state legislature for their rapid response in providing this essential funding to assist LEAs during this very challenging time."

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According to the release, the money will allow district administrators to "ensure that sites are properly cleaned and sanitized, keep school staff safe, provide nutritious meals, and focus on implementing a distance learning infrastructure that is equitable and accessible to all students."

The funding was included in Senate Bill 117, one of two COVID-19 emergency bills passed by the California Legislature on March 17, 2020.

"We are in a crisis right now. And that, from my perspective, should be the focus," Evergreen Teachers Association President, Brian Wheatley told ABC7 News.

Wheatley said Silicon Valley tech giants are in a position to make a significant difference by simply providing resources. Mainly, tools that needed to keep every student on track.

"I know we have many of those kids in Evergreen- we have many of those kids in Santa Clara County- they do not have a device," he said. "But even if we get them a device, they have no connectivity."

Wheatley spoke about how Evergreen teachers are eager to get back into their physical classrooms.

"They want to meet the needs of every single child. It's what they're good at," he said. "How do you do that through a two-dimensional screen?"

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Wheatley continued, "We know that this is not what's best for kids. We will make it work to the best of our ability. And parents... huge props!"

In the end, he said this prolonged distance learning will be a defining moment for young students. The goal will be to continue pushing for equal opportunity across all households.

"The worry is that this situation could actually expand that gap. Because we essentially, here in Silicon Valley, we are the center of all this wealth," Wheatley explained. "And yet, we are also the center of an incredible economic inequality."

Speaking to students, Wheatley acknowledged it's the responsibility of adults to figure out how to make the situation work, under the circumstances.

Overcome with emotion and understanding the responsibility, Wheatley shared this message with students, "If you can give us a little grace and a little time to figure this out... we would appreciate that."

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