The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a lot about America’s civil rights deficiencies, few of which have been as dispiriting as the country’s often chaotic shift to digital learning as schools have temporarily closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This has left an estimated 15 million students without access to the internet, and nearly half a million of their teachers are in the same boat. As districts move their lessons online, this causes incalculable problems for students’ learning, denying them the right to learn, the greatest civil right of all.

So families, educators and other partners around the country have joined a petition to the FCC and chairman Ajit Pai to compel internet service providers to give no-strings-attached internet to all low-income residents for the duration of this crisis. To further this cause, Dirk Tillotson, has started “Access Denied,” a weekly Facebook Live interview program dedicated to understanding why this issue is so important to students—and how to fix it. 

In the debut episode, Tillotson hosted anti-racist educator and activist Zachary Wright, who wants us all to remember that students’ civil right to learn is important to every single American citizen. 

Highlights From Episode 1

Wright said that an under-discussed aspect of digital learning is the lack of in-person relationships that make good teaching so much better.

Wright noted that, when internet service providers put conditions on their supposedly helpful COVID-19 programs, like Comcast’s Internet Essentials asking if families have outstanding debts with the company before providing them the service their students need, that we are siding with the wrong people.

Tillotson said that a lack of internet access has long been an issue for Black families in his community.

Families who are working with Tillotson on getting internet for their kids have reported absurdly long wait times.

Tillotson wants us all to acknowledge what it really means to keep internet from these kids.

We should be embarrassed for getting this wrong.

Students’ capacity to learn should not have dollar signs attached. 

It is within internet providers’ power to do this, do it simply, and do it quickly. We have to make them listen, though. That’s where you come in. Let’s keep the momentum going. Let’s make sure all students can learn. Give them the internet. Tune in next week, Friday, July 10, at noon for episode 2 of “Access Denied”! See you then.


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