Students face digital divide as schools consider online learning

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Amid concerns over COVID-19 spreading in the community, area colleges and universities have moved to online instruction for the rest of the month or school year. Some K-12 public schools in the Houston area are considering online remote learning if long-term closures extend beyond the end of the month.

Schools that turn to online instruction could be a challenge for some students who don't have reliable access to that technology.

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Statewide, 28 percent of households in Texas don't have high-speed internet access that allows video streaming.

On Thursday, Fort Bend ISD announced it is suspending classes through March 30 and is already planning ahead to consider what steps to take if classes need to be cancelled for the remainder of the year.

"The district is prepared to support students without access to technology in a number of ways based on the individuals needs of the student and household," Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Charles Dupre said in a video message to parents.

INTERACTIVE: Use the map below to see how many Texas households are without high-speed internet access within the boundaries of each school district

The darker the area, the fewer households have high-speed internet access. Roll over or click on a school district to see the percentage of households within district boundaries that do not have computers or high-speed internet access.

On a mobile device? Click here.

"During the week of March 16, essential staff will return to work and continue preparation so that we can be begin online instruction for all students in the future if an extended closure becomes warranted," Dupre said in Thursday's video. "This was not an easy decision because I understand the impact our actions have on members of our FBISD family and I know some of you will not agree with my decision, but just as we are committed to providing a safe and secure learning environment when school is in session, we are dedicated to protecting our students and staff in times of uncertainty."

RELATED: Here's the full list of school closings

At Fort Bend ISD, nearly 15 percent of households within the school district's boundaries don't have high-speed internet access that allows video streaming, and nearly two percent of households don't have a computer, according to federal American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau data.

More than 180,000 households within Houston ISD's boundaries don't have a computer. About 38 percent of households don't have broadband.

Houston ISD has postponed classes through March 30. HISD Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said last week that if COVID-19 continues to spread, she will be ready to provide services to students, including the possibility of distance learning, where students can utilize laptops and learn online.

"Every high school student in our district has access to their own personal laptop device, so we're looking at plans for elementary and middle school students," she said.

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