At the start of the pandemic, only 12 percent of low-income students, and 25 percent of all students, in Oakland’s public schools had devices at home and a strong internet connection. David Silver, the director of education for the mayor’s office, said people talked about the digital divide, but there had never been enough energy to tackle it. Once the pandemic hit, suddenly everyone was paying attention, said Silver, a former Oakland public school teacher and principal.

“You don’t have a computer, you don’t have internet, you can’t even access distance learning,” Silver said. “The 50,000 kids that are in Oakland public schools cannot actually go to school if they don’t have internet and computers. We need to change that.”

Now, two years into the pandemic, Oakland has been able to connect 98 percent of the students in the district. As of February, the city had provided nearly 36,000 laptops and more than 11,500 hot spots to low-income public school students. While some students remain unconnected, Oakland’s effort has emerged as an example of how to tackle a citywide digital divide.

“We were using the crisis as an opportunity to address a moral wrong that needs to be changed forever, not just during the pandemic,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said. “We can’t afford not to.”

City leaders, including Mayor Schaaf, say a partnership among the district, the mayor’s office, the Oakland Public Education Fund, the nonprofit Tech Exchange, Oakland Promise and other community-based organizations is behind Oakland’s success. Oakland’s partnership, known as #OaklandUndivided, launched in May 2020. The ambitious goal: close the city’s digital divide for good by providing all K-12 public school students in Oakland with a computer they could keep, a reliable internet connection and ongoing, multicultural tech support in languages families use.

“Each of these partners were doing their individual work, but we had never been working together,” Mayor Schaaf said. “That’s what Covid inspired us to do to really accelerate — not just having computers be at schools, but having them in the homes. Not just so students could keep learning during the shutdown, but so that the whole family had access to information and resources.”

Read the full article about partnerships to address the digital divide by Javeria Salman at The Hechinger Report.