I listened to Governor Walz’s press conference on COVID-19 today. So much to unpack but I’ll start with impact on schools because not only were people at the conference most interested in that topic but as the conference happened I heard from each of my kids about their schools.
Cutting to the chase – a reporter asked Governor Walz what we could do to prepare for schools closings. He responded, and I quote, “Well, we don’t have border to border Broadband.”
Broadband isn’t the only issue hindering school closures. Minneapolis Star Tribune quotes Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director with other issues…
“There are concerns about access to nutrition and other important school services,” she said. “And closing schools means that a large number of parents need to stay home with their children, and many parents are health care providers. So closing schools also has an impact on our health care system.”
Of those three – broadband is one we can fix. I’m reminded of a time I spoke to Governor Walz at a homeless count. I mentioned that my 9-5 job related to broadband. He smiled and said – that we can win. And we can. It will take a big check but that’s easier than changing behavior, changing systems, fighting for a policy with opposition.
I should clarify – getting better, affordable broadband will take a big check and public private partnerships but the systems for making that happen exist through the Office of Broadband Development and the Border to Border Broadband Grants. Developing skills to use it is a different matter but that’s where the connection to schools is important. Learning as they do is part of the education system and getting parents connected will likely have happy consequences related to increase in state digital skills rates too.
Broadband – it may not be sufficient but it’s necessary and it’s a start to helping us prepare for a public health emergency.
And what’s happening with my kids? I have two in college; the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba have moved classes online but students have not been sent home. One professor told my daughter that they will likely finish via email, in part because they are at the end of the semester anyway and will work toward better integration of technology for summer. The third daughter goes to Nova Academy (St Paul Charter); they are open but it sounds like teachers are already handing out extra books and asking who has home internet, just in case. But as all of the parents know, this is the answer today; it might be different tomorrow.