Giving Compass' Take:

• Chicago Public Schools have a district initiative called “Chicago Connected,” aiming to expand internet access at no cost for low-income families. However, it's been challenging to get communities to sign up. 

• A "trust gap" is a significant hurdle for school districts to get families to sign up for this free service, and communities have begun to reach out to help with these barriers. In what other ways can schools ensure connectivity? 

• Read more about the need to creatively increase WiFi access for kids during the pandemic. 

With the start of an all-virtual school year looming, Evelia Guzman got an email from her children’s school telling her she could sign up for free high-speed internet.

A sluggish home broadband had strained her family’s budget, but she didn’t even finish reading the email: She dismissed it as too good to be true.

Chicago Public Schools started the school year remotely Tuesday, and district officials say they are stepping up efforts to reach families about a new $50 million initiative, “Chicago Connected,” which aims to connect low-income students to the internet. But they have run into a “trust gap:” skepticism in some communities that they would get this service for free, no strings attached. The program has so far signed up a quarter of the 100,000 students that officials estimate can benefit from it.

“Some of the folks we are trying to reach don’t believe this is true,” said Philip DiBartolo, the school district’s chief information officer. “(They think) ‘I’m going to get a bill at the end of the month.’”

The district also is working to resolve barriers to signing up that some families and community-based groups have reported in recent weeks, including household incomes that were too high to qualify last year but have shrunk amid the pandemic.

Community-based organizations the initiative enlisted got the go-ahead to start reaching out to families two weeks ago, setting off a scramble to connect students. Meanwhile, Chicago’s teachers union raised alarms Tuesday about students who still can’t log onto classes because of technical hurdles.

Successfully ramping up participation in the program and showing that it is moving the needle on remote learning are key tests for the initiative, a project Mayor Lori Lightfoot has personally championed.

Read the full article about internet access by Mila Koumpilova at Chalkbeat Chicago.