$1M fund to help close DC’s ‘digital divide’ as distance learning begins

On the first day of distance learning at D.C. public schools, officials announced a new fund that has already raised $1 million to help close the “digital divide” that keeps many students from taking full advantage of online education.

The D.C. Education Equity Fund, announced by Mayor Muriel Bowser and city officials on Tuesday, is designed to get District students access to devices and internet access if they don’t already have it, as schools move to distance learning amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said about 30% of students don’t have access to a computer or tablet at home. He added that the school system has access to about 18,000 devices, enough to meet the shortfall, but that a similar number of students don’t have internet access.

The D.C. Education Equity Fund will help buy hotspots and provide other solutions for students who need them, he said.

That will be necessary, because, Ferebee said, “We’re back in school.”

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“Distance learning is not a vacation,” added Deputy Mayor Paul Kihn. “We are expecting that teaching and learning will continue.”

Ferebee said that learning was already happening in the District, with or without internet: “Our materials are accessible to everyone,” he said, adding that 74,000 work packets had been prepared, and 75% of them had been picked up.

He added that teachers had been reaching out to students online and by phone, and that high school and middle school students have reached out to tutor younger kids, fulfilling volunteer service opportunities.

“We’re still here for them,” said Niya White, the principal of the Congress Heights chapter of Center City Public Charter Schools, “pushing them to succeed.”

Ferebee said the third quarter of the academic year had been extended for handing in assignments. He didn’t know yet how the rest of the year, or next year, will be laid out.

Ferebee added that he had learned from the College Board that Advanced Placement exams will be held virtually.

“Stay home except for essential trips,” Bowser said. “We will all be learning together.”

DC services online

In-person customer service centers at the Department of Motor Vehicles will be closed starting Wednesday, as will centers at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and Department of Transportation, the mayor’s office said in a statement Tuesday.

All DMV documents that have expired, or will expire, between March 1 and April 28 have been extended to May 15. That includes driver’s licenses, ID cards, vehicle registrations, inspections, ticket payments and ticket adjudication responses.

All driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and vehicle inspections scheduled to expire have been granted a waiver without penalty until the DMV reopens at full operating capacity.

All driver’s license suspensions and revocations will be paused until then as well.

All tickets will remain in their current status until May 15 and no more penalties will be added.

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is scheduled to reopen April 27. Business, professional and vending licenses will not expire until then, and those who hold them will have until 45 days after that to renew.

The mayor’s office added that most services can be done online.

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Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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