Enid family struggles to get home internet access for school work

ENID, Okla. (KFOR) – A digital divide is causing problems for one Enid family, who said their middle schooler got detention because she didn’t have home internet to finish her work.

At the beginning of the school year Enid parents were given a list of school supplies to buy, but Amber Ruiz Franco said one item in particular was missing: the internet.

While every student at Longfellow Middle School gets a laptop to complete their assignments, families are responsible for providing internet access.

Amber told KFOR her current financial situation has forced her to make difficult decisions to stay within their budget.

“I’m planning on getting it just for [my daughter]” said Amber. But at the moment, how is she going to turn in her assignments if she if we can’t afford it,” she continued.

Amber said her 13-year-old daughter has cried with concern and anxiety over the issue.

“She wants good grades so she can go to college. She wants all that. But if she can’t do her assignments and she is getting poor grades, it stresses her out,” she added,

“It’s not [my] child’s fault, that we can’t afford it. So why punish them,” she added.

“[She told me] she’s getting lunchtime detention,” she said, adding that her daughter is going up to the classroom with her lunch to do homework during her otherwise scheduled lunch period.

“That’s not getting a break from school like they’re supposed to,” she continued.

“So, it’s either have anxiety over your grades or skip lunch… pretty much it’s a lose-lose situation.”

A State Board of Education survey from 2020 showed almost twenty-five percent of Oklahoma students don’t have home internet access.

Also in 2020, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced that 175 Oklahoma school districts had been awarded mobile internet access and devices through the acquisition of 50,000 data plans and corresponding equipment, following a competitive grants process, but Enid Public Schools was not on that list.

A 2016 bond allowed Enid Public Schools to offer 1:1 access to technology devices for 3rd through 12th grade students along with free mobile hotspots for secondary students, to allow them to use chromebooks at home without disruption.

However, an Enid News & Eagle report from 2018 showed just 35% of percent of students had home internet access.

Later reporting showed a 2021 Emergency Broadband Benefit Program replaced the district’s formerly free service.

“Everybody right now is focusing on paying for gas, paying for groceries, paying their bills. Now, you sent home a device that requires somebody to pay an additional expense, and that’s not fair to the child,” said the girl’s grandfather, Clifton Eldridge.

“Anyone that’s going through financial difficulty, if they don’t have a way to connect those Chromebooks, they cannot do the work,” he added.

In an email to KFOR Thursday, Enid Public Schools said the problem was fixed.

Partial statement from an email to KFOR Thursday from Enid Public Schools

The family said they were also told the school has a “no homework” policy, and there are options for free internet or access at a reduced cost.

“Now they’re saying ‘we don’t assign homework’, but they’re giving them work and giving them a deadline That’s the same thing,” disputed Clifton.

“They’re giving them Chromebooks to take home. If you’re not giving homework why send it home,” he added,

But Amber and Clifton said they’ve checked around, and there’s no free option that they know of.

” [I checked with my local service provider] and they said they don’t do the EPS discount stuff. What am I supposed to do,” said Amber.

Clifton said he was told by administrators that while free hotspots were available during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, the additional help for families was no longer available.

“For someone that’s low income or on set income, [internet is] not an option,” added Clifton.

He said he reached out to several state entities for help, including his state representative and the State Department of Education.

KFOR reached out to the State Department of Education on Thursday; the agency contacted Enid Public Schools, who said “the [Longfellow Middle School] principal felt like he was satisfied with the school’s response” to the issue.

The family said with Oklahom’s low education ranking compared to the rest of the country, they’re concerned about all students, not just their own.

“This affects all students across the state of Oklahoma, and if these kids can’t connect, they’re going to fall behind,” said Clifton.

“Why are we throwing another stumbling block in front of kids that already have a problem? We don’t need this issue.”

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