Welfare checks and hotspots: how a school district is fighting to keep kids in class amid Covid

Nov 18, 2020 by

In West Contra Costa unified school district, pandemic-era problems like spotty internet access are driving absenteeism

Alicia Karnsouvong spent the first weeks of the fall semester going to Starbucks coffee shops and local libraries to find a strong enough wifi signal for her sons to sign into their online classrooms.

Karnsouvong had an internet connection at her Richmond, California, home, but it was spotty and unable to handle the increased use that came with daily digital learning. Setting up a time for someone to come fix her connection was almost impossible.

“We tried to reboot it, my first grader tried to log in on my phone, we tried to go to Starbucks and the library but all the other people who had wifi issues were going to the same places as me. It was hard.”

Bouncing from location to location made the mother of three “feel homeless”.

Karnsouvong was also struggling in other ways. She works as a hairstylist and was out of work in the first months of the pandemic because of the Bay Area’s strict coronavirus restrictions. While the lockdown brought financial strain, the time off gave Karnsouvong a chance to spend time at home and set up a makeshift classroom for her sons in first and second grade, and her 12-year-old brother.

By the start of the school year in August, though, Richmond salons had reopened and Karnsouvong was back at work. She cut her hours by more than half to be home with the children, and was seeing clients later in the evening. But fixing the wifi issue proved a daunting challenge.

Karnsouvong requested a school district-issued wifi hotspot, but by the time she received it the county had already classified her seven-year-old son as chronically absent.

“He was still doing the work, and I contacted the school several times about the wifi, but they still sent me a truancy letter.” Karnsouvong recalled. “I was mad because it made me look like I was a bad parent.”

Source: Welfare checks and hotspots: how a school district is fighting to keep kids in class amid Covid | US news | The Guardian

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