Twelve state legislators representing the Houston ISD area sent a letter to Superintendent Mike Miles on Monday asking him to reconsider a decision to end a program that provided free Verizon internet access to tens of thousands of students.
While the coalition of lawmakers has no legal authority to force HISD to change course, state Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, who authored the letter, said she wrote it in response to community frustration about the loss of a vital resource with no immediate replacement. The outcry follows the Houston Landing’s reporting of the cancellation of the Verizon program and the discontinuation of students’ internet access.
Shaw, a Democrat who represents the 148th House district in northwest Houston, said her office has fielded numerous calls from individuals and organizations sharing stories of families who lost out on their sole source of internet when the Verizon program ended. Nearly all constituent calls on the issue shared the same bottom line, she said.
“They have benefited from this (Verizon program) and they don’t understand why it’s being taken away and not being replaced, especially when it doesn’t cost the district anything,” Shaw said.
HISD Chief Technology Officer Scott Gilhousen said September data of students’ Verizon usage showed that of the thousands of students who used the program, roughly 1,000 regularly accessed the web through the laptops’ built-in internet, indicating they had no Wi-Fi at home.
Families in need of home internet may request T-Mobile hotspots from their principal, Gilhousen said, but he acknowledged that the district did not do any outreach to inform families of this option as a replacement for the Verizon program. So far, no families have requested the hotspots since Verizon internet access was discontinued.
“From my knowledge, we have not fielded a request from those parents that have lost those services,” Gilhousen said. “So I think part of that will be for us to communicate more with our campuses to inform them that there are opportunities for those parents or those students to be able to get access to broadband connectivity.”
HISD told the Landing that, while the Verizon program came at no financial cost to the district, Miles objected to the teacher training it required.
“The free technology comes with strings,” Miles said during a Nov. 9 press conference. “It’s a lot of professional development that’s required, and we’re not going to have anybody from the outside professionally develop our teachers on the quality of instruction, instructional strategies or techniques.”
HISD said it is “in discussions” with a provider to offer neighborhood-wide broadband access based from wide-reaching antennas on school campuses in high-needs parts of the city. However, the district said it could not name the vendor or offer a timeline on when those plans might materialize.
In allowing internet services to lapse, the lawmakers argued that Miles’ actions failed to match his stated goals of reducing academic inequities and preparing students for the year 2035.
“It would be an irony as thick as it is tragic to lose sight of that goal by allowing our most vulnerable students to fall behind by depriving them of the basic technology needed to succeed in 2023,” the letter said.
See here (third story) for the background. Gotta say, that’s a pretty weak excuse Mike Miles is offering. I interpret it as “this is not something I have control over so I don’t want it”, which I must say is on brand.
And because it’s on brand for me, I will point out that if we had an elected Board of Trustees who had actual oversight authority over the Superintendent, it wouldn’t be just up to him to make these decisions. This is why we can’t have nice things. The Chron has more.