Coronavirus: Figures show digital divide, many students lack access to computers amid pandemic

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A backpack and school supply giveaway in South Los Angeles included essential items for students. But this year, there is another great need amid the coronavirus pandemic: the tools to learn from home.

"I've been losing sleep over since we moved into distance learning. When a million students don't have access to a computer or connectivity, that is a huge, huge disadvantage to their success," said Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public instruction.

Figures show a digital divide.

In the Los Angeles Metro area, for white students, devices were available about 95% of the time. Availability for Latino students was down 20 percentage points, and even lower for Black students at 65%.

But Thurmond says some of those barriers to success may be coming down, announcing the state Department of Education is collaborating with Apple and T-Mobile.

T-Mobile will provide discounted service. Apple will offer special pricing for iPad and cellular.

The Morongo Unified School District (MUSD) says it hopes to get help.

"We are a very remote geographic area. We're the size of Rhode Island, so my challenge is also my topography," said Tom Baumgarten, MUSD superintendent.

"So without your support, we will definitely struggle."

The Department of Education says it will provide instructions to school districts to submit orders to Apple and T-mobile, which could reach up to one million students.

This comes as the Governor's Office and lawmakers included $5.3 billion in one-time funding in the state budget for schools to strengthen distance learning. Thurmond says those funds can be used immediately to buy the needed technology.

Apple and T-Mobile say at least 100,000 devices can be ready to arrive through the back-to-school time frame.
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