Narrowed digital divide touted as pandemic silver lining

MANCHESTER, Conn. (AP) — Laptop computers have been provided for every student identified by their district as in need, Connecticut officials said Wednesday, touting progress in closing the digital divide as a silver lining of the pandemic.

In an appearance at Manchester High School, Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, said the devices and internet connections provided with help from nonprofits, federal aid and donors are invaluable for households to keep up with education through the pandemic and offer other opportunities, such as virtual medical appointments.

“This is about education, but it’s about so much more," Lamont said.

As school districted switched to distance learning in March, the nonprofit Partnership for Connecticut spent $24 million to provide 60,000 laptops to high school students. And the state used $43.5 million from the state’s portion of federal coronavirus relief funds to buy 82,000 laptops and 44,000 home internet connections for students, the governor's office said.

The digital divide held back students across the state and the country well before the pandemic, as children in the millions of households without home internet struggled to keep up with assignments.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw said students and teachers who were starved for devices now have them.

“We stand here celebrating our ability to close the digital divide and meet the needs of our school districts. And this is long overdue and perhaps one of the silver linings or few benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Manchester High School Principal Katelyn Miner said the digital divide is one of many equity gaps that stand in students' way.

“These gaps and barriers are still embedded in our systems. And again I am hopeful that because we saw this one we will continue to identify those that are less visible,” she said.