Some students may return to school in the fall a full year behind

Internet will continue to be an issue for students as schools reopen

ROANOKE, Va. – Here’s a shocking statistic: some students may return in the fall a full year behind compared to what teachers see in a normal year, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

You may be hearing the word equity a lot, especially since the pandemic, as schools try to plan for the fall and make sure all students have the same opportunities to learn regardless of what their home situation is.

Paper packets or internet access. Those were the two choices families had when schools shut down in March.

“I think if nothing else this pandemic has really highlighted or brought to the forefront the issue of equity or the lack thereof in a way that has never happened before,” said Jim Livingston, Virginia Education Association president.

“One of the equity issues that we discuss pretty quick frequently is the lack of broadband in southwestern Virginia and the necessity for that for students,” said Monica Hatchett, Henry County schools director of communications. “It will take a lot of time, money and work to make broadband happen for all areas of the state and we recognize that. There are some areas where things like portable hotspots are not possible because if you can’t get a cell signal that’s not going to be helpful either.”

600,000 Virginians remain unconnected to broadband internet, according to Commonwealth Connect: Virginia’s Broadband Resource.

According to the map below everywhere you see yellow and red is where service is lacking according to the Center for Geospatial Information Technology at Virginia Tech.

The yellow and red shows the underserved and unserved areas of broadband according to the Center for Geospatial Information Technology at Virginia Tech.
The yellow and red shows the underserved and unserved areas of broadband according to the Center for Geospatial Information Technology at Virginia Tech. (Courtesy: Center for Geospatial Information Technology at Virginia Tech)

It’s not an easy solution, so Henry County’s has developed some workarounds for the fall, including internet outside all of the schools so students can use it in parking lots.

“We know that if our students have to travel somewhere to access the internet, using our internet is a possibility for them now that maybe it wasn’t before,” said Hatchett.

“We have to make sure we’re ensuring equity for all of our students. All has to mean all,” said incoming Roanoke City superintendent Verletta White who is studying what the school system needs as teachers are expected to introduce new concepts instead of the reviewing that happened in the spring. “Equity when it comes to curriculum. Are students able to see themselves in the curriculum, to see themselves in the resources that we use. Equity in instruction, making sure all students have the benefit of high-quality instruction.”

As schools plan for re-opening, equity is taking a front seat in that planning process.

There are 10 strategies for schools to follow including:

  • Prioritizing programs for students who lost more learning during school closures
  • Money to meet the needs of students with disabilities, those living in poverty and English learners
  • Examining discipline policies to evaluate student trauma manifesting through behaviors

Equity is something the Virginia Education Association has been talking about for a long time.

“Equity is not about being equal. Equity is about access, making sure all students have access that all students have opportunity. Those issues are going to be significantly different from one area or locality of the state than the other,” said Livingston.

Additionally Roanoke County schools bought hundreds of hotspots to give to families who need internet.

A group at Virginia Tech was contracted to map all the Public WI-FI Hotspots around the commonwealth to help students and people that don’t have access outside of school. You can find that link here.

Cox has free and low cost internet for families who qualify. You can find that info here.

This is part of an ongoing in-depth 10 News series looking into reopening schools in Virginia. Jenna Zibton is working for you, investigating many different angles of what the changes and challenges mean for families, staff, and the community. Contact Jenna if you have questions. You can email her or find her on Facebook.

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