Digital Racial Gap in Boston Public Schools

Coronavirus, Education, Racial Justice

Digital Divide in Boston Public Schools Exacerbates Disparities Along Racial Lines and Disabilities

Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell and Lawyers for Civil Rights Urge Immediate Action to Close the Digital Gap

As Boston Public Schools (BPS) gets ready for its remote reopening next week with plans to phase in a hybrid model which will keep many students learning at home through the end of the year, data secured by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) through a public record request reveal that the District has not fully closed the digital divide, particularly for its most vulnerable learners. Last spring, BPS publicly committed to ensuring that any student who requested a Chromebook would receive one. Data from the District, however, show otherwise, particularly for students with disabilities and those in certain majority-minority schools. We urge BPS to take immediate action to fulfill its state and federal obligations to ensure that all Boston students can access remote education this fall.

In the wake of the pandemic, families contacted LCR desperate for help because their children were stranded at home without laptops for classes. LCR immediately submitted a public record request to BPS for more information. The responsive data that BPS produced substantiate community concerns at certain schools revealing inadequate allocation of resources along racial lines and disabilities as schools closed last March. For example:

  • Madison Park High School in Roxbury is over 50% Latinx, 38% Black, and 2.6% white. BPS data reveal that the District did not fulfill 80% of the requests for Chromebooks that came from regular education students. Nearly 74% of disabled students who requested a Chromebook never received one.
  • At Burke High School—which is over 62% Black, 29% Latinx, and 3.6% white—50% of students with disabilities and 45% of nondisabled students who requested a Chromebook never received one. 

 These numbers are concerning when compared to BPS schools with majority white student populations: 

  • At the Kilmer K-8 School—which is over 51% white—BPS fulfilled over 97% of Chromebook requests from students without disabilities. 
  • More than 56% of the students at the Warren-Prescott School are white, and nearly 97% of students with disabilities who requested a Chromebook received one from BPS. 

The records produced by BPS also have missing data. For example, records show that at Boston Community Leadership Academy—a school that is 90% Black and Latinx—43 students with disabilities requested Chromebooks, yet there is no indication whether any of those students ever received one. Such data gaps undermine transparency and accountability.

In addition to school-specific information outlined above, BPS has also produced data tracking Chromebook distribution at the neighborhood level by zip-code and by race. This information is available here.

“The Superintendent successfully pivoted BPS at the height of an unprecedented pandemic. Despite complex challenges, the system didn’t collapse and that’s a testament to the Superintendent’s leadership which ensured the delivery of over 32,000 Chromebooks and 1.8 million meals to students along with nearly 15,000 behavioral health sessions. As the district reopens, we want to work closely with BPS to make sure that we build on this strong foundation to deliberately and intentionally deepen and expand critical support services for students of color and those with disabilities to close the digital divide,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights.  

“Since BPS plans to educate students remotely this fall, it has a legal obligation to ensure that all students have consistent and reliable access to the same opportunities, and that means—at a minimum—providing Chromebooks and internet to students who cannot otherwise access these vital educational tools independently,” said Janelle Dempsey, an attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights.

“We now know that ‘family choice’ with respect to hybrid or fully-remote instruction this Fall is effectively meaningless for students whose families do not have the resources to provide their own laptop and internet for each child,” said Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell. “It is imperative that students have the necessary technology in order to learn regardless of whether they are in school or at home,” Councilor Campbell added.

The public records produced by BPS are available for download here: Chromebook requests, Chromebook deliveries, and Chromebooks by neighborhood and race.