HISD parents question online learning due to digital divide

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With just a couple of weeks left before school starts at the Houston Independent School District, many parents still have questions about online learning specifically related to accessing technology.

Adela Justice is the mother of an incoming HISD second grader. Last year, they had trouble due to an outdated device.

"I was hoping to get a device from HISD," Justice said. "We didn't have a great experience in the spring, because my Samsung tablet turned out to kind of be too old and creaky."

Technological difficulty is just one of the reasons students could become disengaged. The so-called digital divide means economically disadvantaged students, specifically, are falling through the cracks.

SEE ALSO: Mother of 4 says her kids don't have access to computers or Internet

Preliminary data from the Texas Education Agency shows 23.4% of students lost contact or stopped engaging with learning last semester in HISD. That's more than twice statewide average, the total statewide for unengaged students is nearly 500,000.

SEE ALSO: Houston ISD found just 1,000 of its 8,500 prioritized lost students

Outside groups like Houston Community College are also addressing this problem. But trustee Reagan Flowers points out, the problem isn't new. It's just magnified by the pandemic.

"COVID really pulled back the shades. It opened the curtains. We've been dealing with this in our community for so long, but you can't hide it anymore," she said.

The HISD school board passed a budget amendment earlier this month to spend $31 million on devices for students. By the end of the year, the district says it plans to have distributed nearly 125,000 devices and hotspots to students.

The Justice family found a device they could afford and went ahead and bought their own, but they say they're worried about families who don't have the option.

"I don't know if by me buying our own Chromebook was me bumping someone else up the list, but I just wanted to alleviate that one problem I could alleviate," Justice said.

Follow Steven Romo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Copyright © 2020 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.