Across the Digital Divide

Raising serious concerns about equal access the San Diego ACLU urged the Oceanside Unified School District to rescind any requirement for families to use an online system for enrolling students. To require families to enroll children online imposes a significant barrier to equal educational opportunity for low-income and people of color and people with disabilities, given the digital divide in access to the internet.

At least one school in the district, McAuliffe Elementary School, informed families that the district “is moving all school registration procedures to online starting May 1st, 2014,” and that parents would need to set up a portal account to register their student for the 2014-2015 school year.

“Many low-income families, especially people of color, simply don’t have access to computers, smartphones, or the internet, and people with disabilities also face obstacles to accessing the internet,” said David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “Given the state of funding for institutions that provide public internet access, such as libraries and community centers, there aren’t enough hours in the day that struggling families could easily use these resources. For something as fundamental as registering or re-registering a child for school, such a burden is indefensible.”

Regardless of whether it is limited to one school or widespread in the district, any requirement for online-only enrollment presents serious legal problems. As noted in the letter, it likely violates state law that says, “No person in the State of California shall, on the basis of race, national origin, ethnic group identification…color…or disability, be unlawfully denied full and equal access to the benefits of, or be unlawfully subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that is…funded directly by the state, or receives any financial assistance from the state.”

Since people of color and people with disabilities often have less access to the internet than other people, the requirement to register online appears to constitute a discriminatory practice, regardless of the district’s intent, by:

  • Giving children of color an unequal opportunity to participate in public education
  • Giving people of color less effective means to reach the same level of achievement as others
  • Effectively discriminating against people based on their ethnic group, color, or disability

“Because access to a public education is a fundamental tenet of the California Constitution, any disparities based on wealth or race in the public education system are strictly prohibited, even if the district did not intend to discriminate,” said Loy.

The San Diego ACLU offered to engage the district’s superintendent, Larry Perondi, in a dialogue to address the issues raised in its letter, sent yesterday. The request called on the district to rescind any requirement to enroll students online, and to notify families that no such requirement exists.

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