Parents, pols slam city over tech gap among students

new york public schools
Borough President Eric Adams was joined other elected officials, parents and advocates at an Oct. 18 press conference to decry the technology gap within virtual learning.
Photo by Todd Maisel

More than 77,000 students at New York public schools either have no computer, iPad or access to adequate internet, city leaders and education advocates claimed on Sunday.

At an Oct. 18 press conference outside the Department of Education headquarters at Manhattan’s Tweed Courthouse, Borough President Eric Adams and other advocates bemoaned that students are being left behind by the city’s new blended and remote learning models — including an outsized number of students of color. 

Some parents whose children do not have access to the internet at home, and others who reside in homeless shelters, slammed the situation as untenable, saying their children were forced to miss out on days of Zoom learning.  

The situation has led some parents to use online fundraising platforms like GoFundMe to buy laptops for children whose families can’t afford to provide them.

Adams, along with Coney Island Councilman Mark Treyger and Manhattan Councilman Ben Kallos, demanded sweeping before students fall behind and drop out of school. Adams warned that failure to address this problem now could result in a domino effect across the city.

“The people of this city should be outraged, impacted or not, over what we are doing to children in temporary housing and in communities that are economically challenged,” Adams said. “It is unbelievable what the DOE has clearly normalized, the lack of education for these students. Every child we fail to educate is a child that will potentially be incarcerated. When you don’t give children the basic education, and you move about as though it is normal, acceptable — you write them off.”

Lazaro Allah, 9, still can’t get a computer or an iPad to keep up with the virtual school year due to COVID-19.Photo by Todd Maisel

Treyger was equally outraged, saying he said he needed a subpoena the DOE to reveal information on the number of children ill-equipped for virtual learning. The councilman, a former teacher, said the problem will go from temporary to generational, and will cause permanent damage to children in the city if not addressed quickly.

“On Friday we had a hearing, [DOE was] not happy that they had to spend hours answering questions,” said the southern Brooklyn pol, adding that the Council had been asking for data since May. “The only thing worse than 77,000 kids that we know of not having the device right now, is entering the school year knowing that thousands of children still do not have a device.”

Parents expressed similar frustrations, including one Canarsie resident who 9-year-old son, Lazaro, who is having trouble keeping up in school due to the reliance on technology. 

“I have two children that have not received a laptop. It’s hard to have one child who tries to accommodate her siblings getting their education. It’s impossible for them to use their telephones to do homework on,” said Atzalah Allah, who attended Sunday’s presser.

Tanesha Grant, a lead advocate for Moms United for Black Lives Matter NYC, said her group has been raising money to buy laptops for children in New York public schools that can’t afford to purchase them.

“I and our organization are tired of the lip service, so we started an initiative to raise $500,000 to buy our Black babies’ laptops – with no strings attached,” said Grant, who credited elected officials like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for donating out-of-pocket to the cause. “This our community and this is what community looks like. We just bought our first 20 yesterday, but it’s not enough.”

Tanesha Grant says her organization is raising funds to supply children with the proper technology for remote learning.Photo by Todd Maisel

Among the parents’ and leaders’ demands are clear communication from DOE to the families of those still struggling with tech needs, up-to-date tracking on device delivery and for the city to utilize its full purchasing power and renegotiate bulk remote learning device procurement for a better tax-payer deal at below-retail price.

Above all, advocates say, they want transparency so that education does not continue to go underfunded — something, Adams noted, dates back well before the current mayoral administration.

“The city was run for 20 years by Republicans,” said Adams, who is one of many vying to be the city’s next mayor. “Mayoral control was under a Republican mayor, [Michael] Bloomberg was given complete control of the educational system. Currently, the money we are not receiving on the federal level is coming from a Republican president who has clearly prevented New York State, and other big cities from receiving resources they needed from the federal government that happens to be a Republican.

“Incompetency is not a party” he went on. “Incompetency is how we are failing to run this city.”