CHICAGO, April 16, 2020—The data is clear: the working class Black and Latino neighborhoods being hammered with COVID-19 cases correlate to neighborhoods whose schoolchildren lack access to both digital learning devices and broadband, as CPS rolls out remote learning. These neighborhoods have suffered from decades of civic disinvestment and institutional racism, with higher levels of low-income workers—thousands of whom are considered ‘essential’ and relying on public transportation to get them to their low-wage jobs as janitors, grocery store clerks and more.
The CTU compiled survey data from rank and file teachers who reported access problems to computers and broadband among students, and matched that data to levels of COVID-19 cases. The correlation is stark.
Chicago’s public school students are overwhelmingly low-income students of color. Low-income neighborhoods confront a range of inequities, from food deserts to lack of access to affordable health care, including mental health care—even as a growing number of adults and children nationally confront mental health issues in the wake of the pandemic. Yet mental health clinics in many of those neighborhoods most impacted by COVID-19 fatalities remain closed, despite the current mayor’s campaign promise to reopen those facilities, and CPS health workers are struggling to access students in need.
“Institutional racism dovetails with socio-economic inequality,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We know that low-income status is a social determinant of health. Low-income residents struggle to stay healthy in the face of lack of access to grocery stores, stable and sustainable income, affordable housing, healthcare and more. Neighborhoods that have seen disinvestment in neighborhood schools are the same neighborhoods confronting the digital divide, the health divide, the income divide, and more. These are the neighborhoods where many people are traveling to public-facing low-wage jobs, often by public transportation—and these are the neighborhoods where people are dying. These communities cry out for civic investment and support.”
Many of the communities where teachers reported that their students lack computer or broadband access are also in the footprint of six health clinics the City closed under the previous mayor. Few members reported being able to reach all of their students. A third reported reaching most students, and another third reported reaching a few. Members across the South Side had had less successful student contact than the North Side or central area. Only 4% of CTU members reported that all of their students had internet access, and a third reported that only a few of their students had access, especially on the far Southeast Side.
At least a third of CPS students lack access to a home computer—the basis of CPS’ distribution this week of over 100,000 digital devices. That distribution is ongoing. Those who get digital devices still confront digital divide issues in terms of broadband access, confront a substantial learning curve—and confront stress and anxiety as families struggle to get into the swing of things.
Residents in lower-income communities still have to work, still have to take public transportation, and often live in over-crowded housing, all of which makes them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, in addition to their poverty-related health risks. Educators are deeply concerned about schoolchildren in these low-income communities
CTU members cited three top concerns for their students: missed education, parental loss of income, and lack of educational supports, including for special education students.