Giving Compass' Take:

· Despite the COVID-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of closing the digital divide in rural areas, superintendents report that the connectivity gap is still very prevalent.

· What initiatives are at work to provide rural areas with the services they need during this pandemic? How can donors support closing the digital divide? 

· See how Cleveland is closing both digital and racial divides.

When Troy Kilzer received the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance Saturday night urging schools to continue learning for all students despite closures, he thought, “Well, that was a no brainer.”

But the director of schools for rural Chester County Schools in southwest Tennessee said providing accessible remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak that has shut down his six schools is more complicated.

“[Betsy DeVos’] assumption is that everybody sits with the same opportunities with the internet, with all the resources supporting technology, and thinks everyone is well supported with access,” Kilzer said. “And that is just so narrow minded to think that everybody is in that same shape.”

The guidance advised districts to opt for continued remote distance learning while offering additional special education services like counseling or instructional support over the phone or virtually. But out of the approximately 28,000 students and their families who are scattered across different providers' lines in Chester County, there are pockets of communities for which getting high-speed internet access and sometimes even phone services is out of the question.

Although the district has 29,000 devices ready for use, the nuances of provider and city politics, high costs and geographical challenges make it nearly impossible to use them in an equitable way.

“It’s kind of like taking one step forward and 10 steps back,” he said, adding having the devices to use but spotty-to-no-internet and phone connection for families is “like having a TV that you don’t plug in.”

While many families rely on the local provider, Aeneas, for high-speed internet, the company only serves within the city limits. Many of the district's families live outside that boundary, Kilzer said, meaning they depend on other providers like AT&T for access.

Read the full article about COVID-19 and the digital divide by Naaz Modan at Education Dive.