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'A matter of equity' | GCS Superintendent, State leaders talk about digital divide

Many Triad school systems are starting the school year remotely but some students don't have the means to do so.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Internet access and a device to get there are common to most but a luxury for many. It's an issue school leaders and lawmakers are working to fix.

"Of the million and a half kids in the state, about that many, about 600,000 of them do not have a device at home," Former Governor Bev Perdue said.

Perdue, along with North Carolina Senate Education and Education Appropriations Committees Co-Chair Deanna Ballard and Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras talked about that digital divide in a virtual press briefing Thursday.

Contreras addressed disparities among GCS students.

"17 percent of our families do not have access to high-speed broadband connectivity," Contreras said, "26 percent of Latino families, 20 percent of our Black families reported not having enough devices in the home to support the number of students who must participate in school remotely."

Guilford County Schools has enough devices for less than half of all students. GCS would need 40,000 devices for every student to have their own.

Contreras said the district will keep using smart buses with WiFi to bring hotspots into low-income neighborhoods which are less likely to have internet.

She is raising the call for the federal government and General Assembly to bridge the gap to fund devices and expand internet to students.

"Our educational system cannot simply be dependent on the funding decisions of local bodies like boards of county commissioners or city councils," Contreras said.

Perdue joined that call saying the billions proposed for student technology in the next stimulus would be a start. She also said the state will need more infrastructure for internet connectivity with the help of the Federal Communications Commission. 

Perdue and Contreras said the FCC needs to pressure internet service providers to step up.

"The telecoms have got to play in the last mile, that's where the problem comes," Perdue said, "This is a matter of equity in our Constitution guarantees equal and equitable access."

Guilford County Schools could get the green light from the county commissioners at an August 8 meeting to buy 30,000 devices for teachers and students. 

Close to ten thousand students would still be without devices provided by the district.

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