Children without internet left behind as schools move online

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Rush Township, Dauphin County is misnamed.

There’s typically no rush.

The pace is a bit slower, which residents like — but internet speeds are too slow, which residents don’t.

“I often say I pay for part-time internet because it works only part of the time,” says Terri Koons, a mother of three school-aged children.

Her district announced classes will be virtual three days a week in the fall.

“My anxiety went through the roof,” Koons said when she got word of virtual classes.

At the end of last school year, online learning meant Koons driving six miles to a fairgrounds just to get service. “We sat in my minivan with my children for hours.”

She is not alone. James Deiter lives nearby and the same applies to his daughter.

“If she’s doing school work, my wife can’t work from home because that little bit of internet connection is enough to lock everything up,” Deiter said.

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, is not surprised.

“Whether you live in rural Forest County or you live in Center City, Philadelphia there are connectivity issues,” said Phillips-Hill, who has spent several years investigating the state’s broadband deficiencies.

She estimates that at least a million Pennsylvanians, and probably more, don’t have adequate service. She adds that in a pandemic, connectivity is as vital as running water or electricity. “It’s no longer a luxury; it’s just a basic fact of life.”

Phillips-Hill says the state needs to incentivize companies to finish wiring the rest of Pennsylvania and eliminate regulations like the one that requires hardwire telephone lines to be maintained even though only 9% of us are still dialing up.

“Why are we investing money into infrastructure for something people don’t want when we don’t have the resources to invest in the infrastructure that they not only want but that they need?” she asked.

Schools need to go online, amidst a pandemic — but that means some children will be left behind.

“My kid’s education is just as important as everybody else’s,” Koons said.

Deiter was holding a pre-school son and looking at his daughter when he said, “this is really putting her and eventually him at a disadvantage just trying to get schoolwork done and access things.”

The good news for families without internet: powerful people at the state capitol feel their pain. The bad news: the fix is still a long ways off.

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