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Closing the 'achievement gap'- studies suggest pandemic has made gap worse

Schools around the country have been doing distance learning since the start of the pandemic to keep their students and staff safe.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Right now, school districts around Tampa Bay are figuring out when they’ll go back to in-person learning. 

Schools around the country have been doing distance learning since the start of the pandemic to keep their students and staff safe, but a recent study from Brown University shows virtual learning could come at a cost.

"At first it was challenging, I’m not going to lie to you," Vanessa Fernandez said.

Fernandez works for the Hillsborough County School District and has five children in school. All five children depend on a single laptop that the district handed out at the beginning of the pandemic to get their lessons done.
Fernandez put the children on a strict schedule to share the precious resource.

"After I had support from all of the staff at West Tampa, the principal even gave us a hot spot for internet service, and ever since we got the hang of it, it’s been amazing," she explained.

But not all families are as successful. 

An Education Trust Poll found nearly 50 percent of low-income families and 42 percent of families of color don’t have access to the devices they need for distance learning. 

A study from Brown University warns educators and policymakers to start preparing for many students who will be substantially behind academically when they return to school.

Gov. Ron Desantis recognizes the need. On Thursday, DeSantis announced using the CARES Act, 64 million dollars will go toward education programs to close the achievement gap caused by the pandemic.

Hillsborough Public Schools says they’re still figuring out their proposal for how they would use the CARES act money. In the meantime, they’re making sure students have access to the devices they need, and hot spots, and have made “grab and go backpacks” with paper lessons as well.

Members of two school boards talked about what reopening schools might look like in the fall. Over the next couple of days, a task force will review Sarasota School Board's recommendations. A survey will be given to families later this month ahead of a task force presentation in mid-July.

Meanwhile, board members in Pinellas took a look at how CARES funds could be used to buy new devices for every kid in the district by 20-23. They're also looking to buy additional licenses of an online learning management platform called Canvas.

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