NYC must install wi-fi for students in all family homeless shelters by August: Settlement

Coronavirus

NEW YORK — New York City must finish installing wi-fi in family homeless shelters under a settlement reached this week in Manhattan Federal Court.

Thousands of children across the five boroughs have struggled to learn remotely throughout the pandemic because of a lack of wi-fi at family homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters.

For the first time in the history of the city’s public school system, more than 11,000 students who live in shelters will have internet access. It’s an unprecedented move to make sure every child can learn remotely during the pandemic and beyond.

The nonprofit Legal Aid Society helped sheltered families sue the city over a lack of wi-fi in November.

The settlement mandates that 240 family homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters must be connected by the end of August. Additionally, if a family has a tablet- or connectivity-related issue within a shelter, the Department of Education must respond within one school day to make sure the child has a working device.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday agreed that wi-fi should be installed as quickly as possible.

“We have all agreed from the beginning we want every shelter to have full wi-fi capacity, and in the meantime we made sure families and kids had alternatives because we want to keep them learning. Some of these buildings are challenges and logistics have been a challenge, and we all agree we need to get it done,” the mayor said during a coronavirus briefing.

If the city doesn’t install wi-fi by the end of August, it will be in violation of a court order. The Legal Aid Society would then call on a judge to consider ways to force the city to comply, such as a new plan or censure for their failure.

Susan Horwitz, supervising attorney of the Education Law Project at The Legal Aid Society, said the organization will closely monitor the city’s progress.

“Before we brought this litigation, the city had no viable plan to enable thousands of homeless students living at local shelters to reliably attend school remotely during an unprecedented pandemic. Too many families have struggled with unreliable cellphone service on DOE tablets, with zero guidance from the city on how to address those issues,” Horwitz said in a statement Tuesday. “This settlement not only requires the city to make good on its promise to wire all shelters, but also provides interim solutions for students who would otherwise be unable to connect to school while waiting in the wi-fi installation line.”

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