BALTIMORE, MD — Now that school will be online this fall, Prince George’s County teachers have one more demand: free internet. The Prince George’s County Educators Association teamed up with the Baltimore Teachers Union to protest outside the city’s Comcast office on Monday. They urged the internet service provider to give students and teachers free internet while classes are virtual.
Nearly 100 vehicles, including cars, bikes and a school bus partook in the drive-by rally. The protest was part of a day of resistance where teachers unions around the country fought for safe and equitable schooling this fall.
Prince George’s County moved classes online through the end of January 2021, hoping to slow the spread of coronavirus. The county has the most total coronavirus cases in the state, with 23,225 infections.
The school system is giving every student a free small laptop, called a Chromebook, to complete their schoolwork this fall. Prince George’s County Public Schools will also supply Wi-Fi to students who don’t have internet access at home.
The teachers union applauds the effort of PGCPS, but it wants to see more action out of internet service prividers. Without equitable internet access, education cannot be equitable, the union argues.
“Having broadband access is critical to a quality, meaningful distance learning experience,” union President Theresa Mitchell Dudley said in a press release. “Our educators also need access to broadband internet so that they can conduct distance learning and provide our students with the opportunities that they deserve. To do this, we need elected officials and the PGCPS to demand that Comcast and Verizon provide no-cost internet access.”
Dudley believes Comcast must re-evaluate Internet Essentials, the company’s discounted plan offered to people who qualify for low-income government programs. Internet Essentials costs $9.95 per month and gives users upload speeds of 3 megabytes-per-second and a download rate of 25 megabytes-per-second.
Teachers want Comcast to raise Internet Essentials’ upload efficiency to 25 megabytes-per-second and its download clip to 100 megabytes-per-second. Comcast’s other plans offer speeds of 100 to 1,000 megabytes-per-second, in comparison.
“Comcast … steals from the poor to give to the rich!” one protester’s sign read. “#NoInternetNoEducation #ComcastCares…ABOUT$$$”
On top of that, Dudley is pressing Comcast to offer Internet Essentials for free to teachers and students, regardless of their current internet status. She hopes the private company will not charge for the service from the time of enrollment until 60 days after schools resume in-person instruction.
The union finally demands that Comcast give the public free access to its hotspots around the country. This is currently included in the Internet Essentials package.
One rally-goer poked fun at the company’s initiative to give back, called Comcast Cares.
“Our students need Comcast to step up,” her sign said. “Show us that #ComcastCares!”
Students’ class schedules will be available on SchoolMax, the system’s e-learning platform, on Aug. 21. These virtual schedules will flow much like a typical school day, and students must log on for most of the business day. Schools will adapt their schedules from Goldson’s proposal.
The school system announced a sample for what the online schedules could look like. Schools will adapt these schedule as necessary.
Each day will start at 8 a.m. and have four periods. Elementary school students will have live lessons in all four classes. Middle and high school students will get a mixture of live and prerecorded instruction. Whether lessons are real-time or taped, teachers will take attendance during every class.
Wednesdays are scheduled supplemental days for students at all levels. Nobody will have a scheduled class on Wednesdays. Both primary and secondary school students will use the extra time for small-group work and targeted help.
Students who still have their Chromebook from the spring should continue using it. New students can pick up their laptop between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15. Instructional packets and school supplies will also be available for pickup on those days.
Classes begin on Aug. 31. Distance learning will continue until at least Jan. 29, which marks the end of the first semester.
Goldson will update the county on her plans for the second semester on Dec. 1. If she deems in-person schooling safe and appropriate, parents will have the chance to opt into a hybrid model for the final two marking periods.
Under the hybrid option, students would attend in-person classes twice per week and continue with online classes for the remaining three days. If implemented, the hybrid model would start on Feb. 1, which is the first day of the third marking period. Students can continue with full-time distance learning if they choose.
Regardless of their decision, families must fill out a form between Dec. 1 and Dec. 18 telling PGCPS which method their student will follow. The school system will not offer fully in-person classes until at least the 2020-2021 school year, Goldson said.
“We all want to have our children and our staff back in buildings the way that we used to,” Goldson said. “Unfortunately, we are not at a time where I feel comfortable that we can move forward with excellent delivery of instruction and keeping our children safe with them physically being in our buildings .”
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