A new program in Washington will help connect low-income students to internet as many districts across the state started off the academic year using a remote learning model.
The program, launched Thursday from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, will help up to 60,000 students and their families get internet access at no cost through the academic year. The program — which is funded through the federal CARES Act — is partnering with three service providers including Ziply, Presidio and Comcast to provide the services.
Students who qualify for the program include those who are low-income and qualify for free and reduced-price meals, and did not have internet before August of this year. Families will get a code from their school district to participate in the program, or they can get in touch with the district to find out more about the program.
In August, most school districts throughout King County announced plans to start the academic year remotely as coronavirus cases had surged across the state over the summer. Public health officials have warned multiple times what happens outside of schools in terms of community transmission of the virus is just as important as precautions taken inside of schools to prevent its spread. But remote learning has posed several challenges for students, especially those without internet or with access to fewer resources.
Under statewide guidelines issued last month, school districts in counties considered high risk — meaning they had more than 75 new cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days — were recommended to adopt a primarily remote learning model.
School districts in counties in the moderate risk category — meaning they had between 25 and 75 new cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days — were advised to consider expanding in-person learning options for elementary school students. Recommendations for districts in moderate risk counties included considering a hybrid learning model for middle and high school students over time if “limited COVID transmission occurs in schools.”
Last month, King County was in the high risk category, but has since moved to the moderate risk category as cases in recent weeks have been declining. As of Sept. 19, King County had about 50 new cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days.
Seattle Public Schools, the county’s largest school district, is continuing with a remote learning model for the time being, but some districts in the area have announced plans to bring back limited numbers of primarily younger students for in-person learning. Most districts are prioritizing in-person learning first for younger students and student with disabilities.
When schools do bring back students to the classroom, students will be expected to wear masks and socially distance to avoid spreading the virus, along with taking other precautions. Gov. Jay Inslee said during a news conference last week people need to continue being vigilant to get kids back in the classroom.
“We are turning the tide, but we got to keep turning it, and we got to get kids back to school,” Inslee said during a news conference Thursday. “The more we reduce this infection rates, in numbers, the faster we’ll be able to get our kids back to school and that’s what these protocols are designed to do.”