When the shift to remote learning during the pandemic highlighted a serious lack of internet access for students and staff, the union sounded the alarm — and is answering the call.
The American Federation of Teachers, one of NYSUT’s national affiliates, this summer provided the People Project in St. Lawrence County with eight Jet Pack hot spots for educators, students and families to be able to get online.
The year-round, mobile hot spots are being set up in Parishville, Canton, Ogdensburg and Gouverneur. Mary Wills, retired teacher and director of the NYSUT-supported People Project, said Gouverneur alone has four areas with no Wi-Fi access. Districts across the county report 600-900 students without internet access, a major deficit at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic requires many families to rely on remote learning.
“Lack of internet connectivity across our region is due to various factors, but geography and cost are the main obstacles,” said Wills.
A Common Sense Media report issued this summer indicated that 726,000 K–12 students in New York — 27 percent — did not have adequate internet access during the pandemic, and neither did 18,000 teachers.
“This pandemic has shined a bright light on the fact that equal access to educational opportunities must include equal access to the devices and to internet infrastructure,” said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham, who leads the union’s social justice work. “When we say we’re striving for greater social justice across New York, that includes educational equity for every child, regardless of their ZIP code or socio-economic status.”
The Canton Teachers Association, led by Kristen Ames, is working with the local housing authority to place their hot spots in high-need areas; others will be placed in areas that are within walking distance for a lot of families, Wills said. The range is about 50 yards, and about 15 users can access the hot spot at a time. The hot spots will also allow families to access online services for telemedicine and social services.