On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would install Wi-Fi in city-run homeless shelters to help students who are struggling with remote learning in "service dead zones."
Students in shelters across Brooklyn and the rest of the city have been experiencing connectivity issues with city-supplied devices, essentially blocking them from online learning and causing them to fall behind in school work.
The Legal Aid Society threatened litigation against the city unless it devised a comprehensive plan to get Wi-Fi into shelters to give students equal access to education.
In an Oct. 8 letter to the Department of Education and Department of Homeless Services, the society and Coalition for the Homeless said the DOE was in violation of its constitutional obligation to provide a "sound basic education," and was failing its stated mission of providing a "rigorous, inspiring, and nurturing learning experience" to "every single child."
Instead, it was providing them with no education at all, the letter said.
In his Monday press briefing, De Blasio said he had given instructions to the Law Department and Social Services to go shelter by shelter ensuring every shelter got Wi-Fi installed.
"We've got to stop this and make sure everyone has what they need."
Connectivity issues have been so bad for some students, school administrators and truancy officers have issued threats over missed classes, New York Daily News reported.
In an email to the newspaper, de Blasio spokesperson Avery Cohen said contracts were being finalized and family shelters would be the first in the city's 450-shelter system to receive the upgrades.
The affected shelters include Brooklyn's Albermarle Family Residence, Flushing Avenue and Flatlands Family Residence, and Regent Family Residence, Freeman Shelter and Children's Rescue Fund House East, the society said in a press release Oct. 20.
The city was recently made aware of connectivity issues at shelters, and it switched cell service providers from T-Mobile to Verizon. However, the move was insufficient as many of the shelters were service deserts, not served by any provider, The Legal Aid Society said.
Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless, said the city's failure to create and implement a plan providing reliable internet access had exacerbated disparities that already put homeless children at an educational disadvantage.
"For months, homeless students at shelters across the city have been denied internet access through a lack of WiFi or inadequate cellular service, creating unnecessary obstacles to their ability to participate in remote schooling," she said, adding it was a matter of social justice.
The city did not provide a plan or timeline for when Wi-Fi would be installed.
Susan Horwitz, supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society, said the society was demanding answers and was prepared to act if the city failed to give students the resources they deserved, adding the consequences of continued inaction could prove devastating for the already vulnerable families
"The devil is in the details, and while we welcome this announcement, too much time has passed with too little action for us to accept it at face value."