By Stefan Modrich
Members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and superintendents from Houston ISD and three other school districts in the region announced last week they had secured a donation of 1,000 computers to be distributed to school districts across Greater Houston as they continue to instruct most students remotely.
The computers were donated by DARE America, an education program based in California, and Strategic Financial Solutions in New York.
State Rep. Jarvis Johnson of District 139, which includes part of Garden Oaks and Oak Forest, organized a Zoom meeting with three other state representatives from the Houston.
“When the (COVID-19) pandemic hit back in March, we realized that many of our children could not go to school virtually,” Johnson said. “And many of our students were falling behind.”
According to a 2019 report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, 15 percent of Houston households do not have a broadband internet connection of any type, including a cellular data plan.
Johnson said among those in the 10 largest school districts in the Houston area, about 143,000 households do not have a computer.
Houston ISD superintendent Grenita Lathan was one of four school administrators on the call, along with superintendents from Aldine ISD, Spring ISD and Stafford Municipal School District.
Lathan said HISD would deploy 14,832 devices by the end of last week, and the district planned to deploy 9,800 more devices by this Friday.
“We all knew that there was an achievement gap,” Lathan said. “We knew that there was a digital divide, but it was so eye-opening in March when we had to scramble and try to transition to virtual learning.”
Lathan added HISD has programming accessible via Comcast and AT&T U-verse and even a traditional “rabbit ears” antenna for those without a reliable internet connection.
“Our teachers are actually recording lessons that our parents can also watch,” Lathan said. “Outside of the internet activities, they can watch them on TV.”
Lathan thanked the members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus for their role in helping pass House Bill 3, which provided schools across the state with $11.6 billion in aid in a sweeping move to reform the state’s school finance system. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on June 11, 2019.
She also asked the lawmakers to be mindful of the psychological struggles children will continue to endure as they remain apart from classmates and teachers, and that more technology will be required to meet the growing needs of students participating in virtual learning.
“As you do prepare to go back to Austin in January, whether it’s virtual or face-to-face, please don’t forget about the mental health aspect for our students,” Lathan said.