Schools work to expand student outreach amid distance learning equity challenges

Osseo Area School District staff hand out iPads to families following the expanded closure of schools. (FOX 9)

With schools now closed for the rest of the school year, the Minnesota governor and lieutenant governor also putting a big focus on the impact the pandemic is having on education. 

In his briefing Friday, Governor Tim Walz said he is concerned that distance learning is only leading to more inequalities for students already at a disadvantage. One of the biggest issues is access to technology and the internet. Schools statewide are working to better meet their students’ needs.

At Maple Grove Senior High School Friday, cars lined up so that families could pick up iPads for their youngest students - those in kindergarten through the 3rd grade. The Osseo Area Schools serves nearly 21,000 students in a socioeconomically diverse area across the northwest metro. Initially when the state went to distance learning, early elementary students were asked to double up on their connected devices with older siblings in the district. Educators and parents, however, found it to be a struggle. 
“They were sharing one iPad between three kids,” said one mom at pickup. “There’s a lot of learning in Google Meets, so now each, at least the older ones will have an iPad each.”
According to the district’s data, at least 80 percent of students have engaged through district technology. Administrators are happy with that number, but are trying to do even better.
“We’ve got different groups of students that connect on different days,” said Anthony Padrnos, the executive director of technology for the Osseo district. “Some will come in and crash out a couple days' worth of learning and take some time off the next day.”
Padrnos told FOX 9 the Osseo Area School District has about 3,100 iPads to hand out. Most are older models that still have the necessary e-learning software for young students. He said the district has also identified about 300 kids who have no internet connection at all, at home.
Mobile Wi-Fi hot spot devices are expected to arrive for them any day, as state leaders made clear every student in Minnesota deserves access to a quality education during the pandemic shutdown of the schools.
“I think we’ve heard some people say that COVID-19 is the ‘great equalizer,’ but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan. “What this crisis has done has laid bare the inequities that already existed within our state.”