The girls' school district is currently awaiting the delivery of 2,500 additional hotspots to provide to local families

By Rachel DeSantis
September 03, 2020 03:29 PM
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Two students in Salinas, California
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A California school district has stepped in after two young girls in a viral photo were seen sitting outside a Taco Bell in order to use the restaurant’s free WiFi to complete their schoolwork.

The photo — which was first shared to Instagram on Aug. 25 — has led many to call it a jarring example of a growing digital divide and the struggle many Americans face amid a pandemic that has forced schools across the country to turn to remote learning.

In the photo, the girls — whose faces are covered as to protect their identity — sit on a curb outside a Taco Bell in Salinas with pencils, notebooks and a laptop as two employees speak to them.

“A lot of us don’t have to worry about having a proper WiFi connection or a quiet place to work from home,” the Instagram user wrote. “Every student from preschool through college should have free access to reliable WiFi, especially now.”

The photo struck a nerve, too, with Luis Alejo, a supervisor for the City of Monterey, who tweeted out the picture and wrote: “We must do better & solve this digital divide once & for all for all California students.”

The students were soon identified by the Salinas City Elementary School District, and their family was given a hotspot so that the children would be able to access classroom instructions from home, Richard Gebin, a spokesperson for the district, tells PEOPLE.

Gebin says the district is currently awaiting the delivery of 2,500 additional hotspots to provide to local families, which he calls a “huge step in bridging the digital divide” in the school community.

“The digital divide is very real and delays in receiving needed technology are a statewide concern,” district President Amy Ish said in a statement. “We are grateful the State is making technology a priority and look forward to receiving these hotspots in our District.”

As the coronavirus crisis descended upon the United States this spring, nearly all schools were forced to shift to remote learning, with students relying on laptops and home internet to access their lessons.

However, a June study from Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group found that 25 percent of K-12 students do not have adequate internet connection at home, and 17 percent do not have proper devices for distanced learning, according to CNN.

“We know that there [are] thousands of other kids in a similar situation. In Salinas, there’s a lot of homes and a lot of parents who don’t even know how to use computers or how hotspots work,” Alejo told the outlet.

Gebin says that his district also has a bilingual tech support line to help families with IT questions or request a device, and a parent training seminar to help parents better understand the technology.