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Coronavirus crisis amplifies racial and economic inequities at Seattle schools

A Seattle teacher says the digital divide is only part of the problem. After some of her students' families said they were unable to afford food, she stepped in.

SEATTLE — At Beacon Hill International School, remote learning's rocky start was noticeable in Nisha Daniel's first-grade class.

"I would say roughly half just couldn't engage," Daniel said.

When that happened in early spring, she reached out to her students' families.

"It didn't register until I had a mom say, I get it, but we don't have food, and I need to feed my family. And I was like, OK, what am I going to do? How am I going to serve this family," Daniel said.

Daniel found her answer at Rainier Valley Food Bank. She began showing up every week along with other teachers and parents. Together, they pack and deliver groceries to the doorsteps of families in need. Daniel said they have been serving about 70-80 families a week over the summer.

Because food was an issue, it was clear to Daniel that data plans and high-speed internet were also out of reach.

A study by Boston Consulting Group in partnership with Common Sense found nationally 30% of all K-12 public school students lack adequate internet and devices.

In spring, Daniel noticed some families realized they could get internet by going to the parking lot of the library.

"I saw one of my students with their laptop inside their parent's car trying to connect to the internet," Daniel said. "That's how dedicated they are."

It also highlights the digital divide.

When asked about how Seattle Public Schools plans to address those inequities, Superintendent Denise Juneau said, "there needs to be a movement across this country for broadband for all. It is really ridiculous actually. These basic services should be looked at like a public utility."

Superintendent Juneau added that work is underway to roll out more resources to students as remote learning continues in the fall.

"Our district did a huge lift and we provided devices across our district - about 50%. We have devices on order that we will fulfill with the rest of the 50%, and so we hope to have a strong start to the school year." 

For Daniel, another round of remote learning means rolling up her sleeves right now and continuing her volunteer work at the food bank.

"One of the things that I know, our families and our students are extremely resilient. And I know we are going to get through this," Daniel said.