ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Rochester City School District announced this week they will be using online learning for the first ten weeks of the school year.

A rising concern for many is the families in the RCSD that lack access to a reliable web connection.

“We know that Census data shows one out of three households in the city of Rochester does not have access to the Internet,” says County Legislator Rachel Barnhart, who represents a section of the city. She says that adds up to thousands of students.

MORE | RCSD distributes MiFi internet hotspots to students, families

Barnhart says the “digital divide” in Rochester is wide. Many cannot afford to pay the monthly rates of $50 to $65 with providers. 

“That is very expensive for families who live below the poverty line,” she says.

Barnhart says the “MiFi” hotspot devices already passed out by the district are too slow. When it comes to using cellphone data, Barnhart says for the demands of the classroom, that’s not going to cut it. 

“Have you ever tried to do anything intense on your smart phone? It’s really not appropriate for school work,” she says.

Members of Rochester Organization of Rank and File Educators (RORE) agree. Even though electronic devices were given to students, like the Mi-Fi’s and Chromebooks, there were too many gaps to connecting them. Dave Sutliff-Atias says the state funding is there to get all kids properly online. He says RORE currently has an online petition circulating here.

“We need to come together as a community to make sure our kids have what they need to be able to do this remote learning,” says Sutliff-Atias.

Barnhart says a solution could come in the form of public-private ownership of a company, or government owned/run internet service. Either way, it’s got to happen fast. “We need a solution that does not count on Spectrum or Green Light or any other company to quote ‘do the right thing,'” she says.

Adults are looking now for that kind of action. “Something has to get done to accommodate what the city wants to get done,” says Cuevas Walker of Go Ministries Youth Group.

“They need to put an area where they have Internet. Access for the kids to get to it that don’t have it,”
Bruce Gordon, an RCSD Employee

Barnhart says she and others are trying to get a task force together now to come up with permanent fixes to the digital divide. Barnhart says the more we can invest these getting kids online, the brighter the future for all. “We need to start looking at broadband like basic infrastructure,” she says.

While the district was going to address some of these connection challenges today at a Zoom call, the meeting had to be cut short after it was hacked.