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League of California Cities

City of San Jose Helps Connect Students Digitally for New Academic Year

As parents, teachers, and school districts adapt to new distance and hybrid learning models to start the academic year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of San Jose is addressing one major hurdle to this new virtual learning, internet accessibility.
 
Approximately one in five students in California has limited or no access to high-speed internet or a computer at home in order to participate in online classes. In response to the digital divide in San Jose, the city will provide 11,000 high-end hotspots with unlimited data plans to unconnected and under-connected students and residents through a public-private partnership.

SJ-Access-staff-packaging-hotspots-(1).jpgThe hotspot device lending was one of four key priority projects through the COVID-19 Digital Inclusion Expenditure Plan, unanimously approved by the mayor and city council in June, and developed by the Digital Inclusion Branch of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which is led by City Librarian Jill Bourne, and supported by a team of library staff, Office of Civic Innovation, and Information Technology.

“Since 2016, San José has led the nation in addressing the digital divide, yet this agreement accelerates our critical work by getting 8,000 students connected to online learning by the start of classes this month, and many more in the months ahead,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo.

The City of San Jose, in conjunction with their partners, will supply the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) with thousands of hotspot devices to be distributed to those students who need access to broadband connectivity in order to begin their online school year. City staff will also work with SCCOE to identify students who need access to other devices, such as laptops or computers, to participate in distance learning.

In addition to the hotspots secured by the city, the library will also provide residents free access to 3,000 hotspot devices available for check out with their library card for a up to three months.

“Working to eliminate the digital divide for thousands of students and families can’t happen without strong partnerships and the support of our leaders in education,” said Bourne. She pointed out that the partnerships they secured and the support they’ve received, “has helped establish resources to buildout a much needed lending model of hotspot devices and free community Wi-Fi that will connect students to academic resources through their school and the library."

This multi-faceted effort by the city also includes expanding the Access East Side Community Wi-Fi Project, an initiative set forth by the city in 2019 to target specific school districts with the highest need for computer and internet access among its residents. Additionally, the city will enhance outdoor Wi-Fi access at several branch libraries, community centers, and parks.

Outdoor Wi-Fi will provide students and residents in the area with a stable internet connection whether the library and community centers are open or not. 

Ensuring digital equity and the opportunity for every child to thrive in school, especially during these challenging times, has been a long-time focus of the City of San Jose. Through collaborative partnerships the city is closing the digital divide by providing students with reliable access to the internet for the new school year.

This story was featured in the CA Cities Advocate Newsletter on Aug. 12, 2020.
© League of California Cities