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Learning online creates class divide » Albuquerque Journal

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New Mexicans are hurting from the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, worsened by a back-and-forth from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about whether students will be allowed to go back to school to study in the fall.

Unfortunately, because of the governor’s recent announcement to opt for a virtual start of the school year until at least Sept. 7, many students will be at a disadvantage, especially people of color, Native Americans and those living in rural areas, who will be disproportionately affected by a mandated “virtual” school year.

According to BroadbandNow, New Mexico trails most states, ranking No. 49 in internet speed, price and coverage. Only 12.5% of New Mexicans have access to low-priced internet access, and only 66.5% have access to the internet at all.

A first-of-its-kind report by the Los Angeles Unified School District revealed a shocking reality for the nation’s second-largest school system: over “50,000 Black and Latino middle and high school students did not regularly participate in the school system’s main platform for virtual classrooms after campuses closed in March.” According to the report, “low-income students and Black and Latino students showed participation rates between 10 and 20 percentage points lower than white and Asian peers.”

If the nation’s second-largest school district, which is located in the thirteenth most-connected state, has a massive access gap in connectivity, New Mexico, which has much less access than California, is sure to be hurting by an even higher margin.

According to a report from McKinsey and Co., the quality of instruction is significantly lower in remote settings, with a staggering 48% of students receiving low-quality online instruction and 20% of students going without any instruction at all if not given the option for in-person instruction. For Hispanic and Black students, those without access to the internet at all skyrocketed to 30% and 40%, respectively. The same report found that a prolonged lockdown, with only remote learning, will set back Hispanic students by 9.2 months, Black students by 10.3 months, and low-income students overall by 12.4 months.

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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pushing back the school year will not only set back thousands of New Mexico students by as much as over a year’s worth of instruction, but it will cripple working parents who will be forced to choose between taking care of their child during the day or working to support their family.

Pushing back the school year puts working families in a tough situation. They have to choose between working or leaving their children at home unsupervised or possibly with a grandparent who might be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to age or pre-existing conditions.

Science proves it is safe for children to go back to school, and holding children back by providing them sub-par online instruction – if they can access it at all – is harmful to their growth and development. The state of New Mexico has a responsibility to provide our children education, and holding them back from in-person instruction hurts our most vulnerable communities.

All children should have access to an equal education. It’s the law.


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