Remote learning creates issues for families without internet

SPOKANE, Wash. — Going back to school and learning remotely will be tough for some families who don’t have access to the internet.

Trying to get online at Mary Eberle’s house is like living in the 90s.

“It’s just like a dial-up speed. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t,” Eberle said.

When she found out that Spokane Public Schools is starting the year off with remote learning, she was upset.

“I felt that my kids are going to get left behind in some ways in the district, not with actual learning,” she said.

Eberle lives near Indian Canyon Golf Course. She said she’s just out of the area for high speed internet.

When school went to distance learning in the spring, it wasn’t an issue for them because they rarely had to go online. But this fall, because school will be full-time distance learning with a structured day, it will be tough to get her four school-age children online.

“It might take days to reload a 30 second video onto my Facebook page,” she said. “So, you can imagine four real-time Zoom classes going on at the same time, it’s hard to understand how this will actually work.”

LIST: School districts determine back to school plans

Spokane Public Schools says for families like Eberle’s, they’re thinking about having teachers record lessons. Families will then have to go to a school where there is WiFi to download the videos. This is just an idea for now, it is not set in stone.

The Washington State Department of Commerce also has drive-in WiFi hotspots in certain locations. Their goal with this was to help rural areas get connected at the start of the pandemic.

“Many people were using work or school for their internet connectivity, and we’ve got to change that,” said Lisa Brown, the director for the Department of Commerce.

She says the legislature is making it a goal to get internet to every household in the state, however there is no timeline of when that would happen.

“[It’s] one of the most important investment we can make for the future,” she said. “To give us educational equity, healthcare equity if you want to order a prescription, and be able to get information for your family.”

As for families who can’t afford internet right now, SPS will be giving out hot spots so they can get connected at home.

They did that in the fall, but found families with more than one student learning from home, still had issues connecting because of data limits. The district says it purchased higher quality hotspots for families in need.

Eberle had the concern that her kids would penalized for not appearing in Zoom learning sessions for this fall because of internet connectivity. This is what the district said:

“Flexibility and understanding barriers will be at the forefront of consideration in thinking about teaching and learning online. All curricular subjects are modifying their scope and sequencing including grading guidance that will support students who experience barriers like internet connectivity. Competency based projects and assignments are also being developed where students can take multiple days to complete assignments or projects.”

For a list of where families can get WiFi from schools, or other internet options, you can find more information on the school district’s website here.

The Washington State Department of Commerce is also asking people to fill out a survey so they can figure out who has internet, and who doesn’t. Click here to help with that.

RELATED: Gov. Inslee strongly suggests most Washington schools return to online learning this fall

READ: Child care centers prepare for increase in need as schools reopen remotely