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Tech Equity Day of Action

By Nicollette Samuels

Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr. partnered with South Bronx Rising Together, The Bronx Community Foundation, Bronx Impact, DreamYard, elected officials and Bronx families to host a Tech Equity Day of Action on October 26, 2020. The day was an effort to shed a light on the negative effects the pandemic has had on the Bronx in terms of safety and quality education.

Diaz and members of the Bronx community called on the city, mayor, and Department of Education (DOE) to live up to their promises and provide the appropriate number of devices for remote learning students.

Borough President Diaz said that as students continue in blended and remote learning programs, the more the DOE, the school system, and the city has “earned a failing grade” in distributing laptops, tablets, and tech assistance to families in the public school system. As a result, his team and office have felt the brunt of the pressure to fulfill demands, and has made it clear that he is not and should not be responsible for providing the borough with the tech. He has asked and still urges families to contact his office to inform them if they have received or not the devices needed to have the quality education and services that their children deserve.

There are over 200,000 students in the Bronx public school system and the DOE has only issued about 84,000 devices, making that less than 50 percent of students who have received them. Children have resorted to using their cellphones and sharing devices with their family members in order to complete assignments, which is not the most efficient. Over 500 families have contacted Diaz’s office indicating that they need devices, and 49 percent of the children in those families are in grades 1-5. Although the DOE has promised to help the many families that do not have access to portable devices, the ones that do are plagued with not having sufficient Wi-Fi coverage and the community calls upon internet service providers to be responsible for providing quality service across the borough.

In 2018 Diaz issued a report, “Programming New York City Students for Success,” which outlined a view of computer science education in New York City public schools, calling for amendments to Directive 10, an out-of-date set of rules that prevents city public schools from purchasing portable technology such as such as Apple iPads, Google Chromebooks, Samsung Galaxy Tablets and Amazon Kindles.

New York State assemblywoman of District 84, Carmen Arroyo, puts the blame on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. She claims that the state gives the city billions of dollars for education and that he is responsible for allocating that money and putting it in the hands of educators. “We assign money to the district that never ever get to the classrooms, the teachers, and to help those parents that don’t have the facilities to have the devices that they need for the children to learn,” said Arroyo. She states that 68 percent of students in School District 7 need bilingual education, but the mayor claims that there are not enough bilingual teachers. “He is taking the money and giving the money in big contracts to his friends,” she said. “It’s good for you to know because as politicians we should know the taxpayer’s money that the people put every year is used for whatever the administrator wants.” She said that in her experience with education, the superintendents are the ones that need the most help from elected officials like herself because they cannot get to the mayor.  She calls on all elected officials for the Bronx to work together and be tough because they represent the people.

Elected officials are representing parents like Thomas Sheppard and Geneal Chacon, who are also members of the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP). Sheppard references that day’s Daily News front page headline “Virtual Insanity” to describe the state of the Bronx educational system. Although the city and the DOE have vowed to supply the children with the technological resources they need, without access to them there have been cases where the parents have been reported to the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) for child neglect because their children failed to long into their online classes. Bronx schools have been historically underfunded.  Sheppard says that “This is not a matter of resources, it is a matter of will.”

Chacon’s says her fight has always been to get transparency from the DOE. The Bronx has suffered from the lack of communication and has been fighting to build a bridge for four years, now that the city is in the middle of a pandemic, she feels that the Bronx is being ignored. As a parent of three girls, she struggles with having to share devices with her kids so that they can do their schoolwork and being present for her community as a PEP member during the pandemic. Chacon admits there has been some progress, but says it is not enough and wants to see action before the year is over. “Let our parents feel at ease, we don’t want to be anxious anymore,” she said. “It’s very difficult to wake up in the morning and not know. We already don’t know what’s going on with COVID, we already don’t know if all our children are going to be back in school. What we do know is every single child in New York right now is learning remotely.” She says she is afraid that if the mayor and the DOE do not give students the devices and gateway to education in time, children will fall behind in their studies.

Bronx high school student Lucki Islam shared a letter directed to the “higher ups,” detailing her experience and that of other students in the community without access to the internet service and devices.  She said that even coming to the event was a struggle because of the lack of service on her phone. She pointed out the educational and technological disparities for low-income communities that have always been present but now brought into the light due to the pandemic.

Other elected officials such as Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez, NYC Council Member Rafael Salamanca, and Assemblyman Kenny Burgos, also joined the event to advocate for the Bronx and voice their frustration with city and the DOE. They have been in contact with local schools and talked with principals, parents, and children who all share the same story. The DOE has a $34-billion budget and is failing to equip the children with the tools needed to participate in school, they say. This is especially affecting homeless students that are forced to learn on their own because they don’t have the tech or Wi-Fi bandwidth in shelters.

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