Media Contact

May 15, 2020

NEW YORK — Even during a pandemic, the state of New York has a legal obligation to provide all students equal access to an adequate education, the New York Civil Liberties Union warned in a letter to the New York State Education Department, accompanied by the results of a statewide survey on the transition to remote learning.  

To help meet this obligation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NYCLU is demanding NYSED ensure all students have equal access to the technologies that make effective remote learning possible, and that strong and uniform privacy safeguards are in place to protect students in the virtual classroom. ACLU National is also calling on Congress to provide billions of dollars in funding as part of the next COVID-19 relief package to meet the broadband access and technology needs of students and other impacted individuals.

“While New Yorkers are doing their best to rise to the urgent and unprecedented challenge of remote learning, we need longer term solutions and supports,” said Johanna Miller, director of the NYCLU’s Education Policy Center. “Right now, too many families lack adequate internet access, laptops or tablets for each child, predictable access to teachers, and information about grading and accountability. Students with disabilities and those who are learning English have struggled to get the support services they need. We need to make sure students aren’t losing out on entire months of instruction.”

Many students, especially low-income students and students of color, lack access to technology and communications services that are essential to remote learning. Students with disabilities face even greater challenges.

Compounding these concerns, the tech industry’s educational products are often used to gather large troves of highly personal student information. Some of these products also enable companies and schools to spy on students — a practice that further exacerbates the over-disciplining of students of color. In New York, where legislation to curtail the implementation of facial recognition surveillance technology in schools is under consideration, these concerns loom especially large.

As a part of his efforts to bolster New York schools, Governor Cuomo announced a coalition of billionaires, philanthropists, and tech leaders to reimagine schools without including educators. In this announcement, the governor highlighted a partnership with the Gates Foundation, whose foundation has a history of high-profile, high-cost failures in education reform.

“Now is the time to reinvest in and transform our schools, but there’s no equitable path forward without confronting the systemic, racist barriers students of color already face in our schools,” said Miller. “We need to address entrenched underfunding, segregated schools, and the tremendous deficit of equipment and technology for New York’s vulnerable students. But handing the reigns to groups like the Gates Foundation is not the way to do so.”

The NYCLU’s letter joins similar letters sent to government officials nationwide by ACLU state chapters in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In its letter to Congress, ACLU National is urging members to provide $2-3 billion per month for the duration of the crisis and for at least 30 days after the crisis ends for an emergency benefit to make broadband services available to all eligible low-income households and all households experiencing hardship as a result of the pandemic. To help students even more, the organization is also calling on Congress to provide $4 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund, proposed by Rep. Grace Meng and Sen. Ed Markey, that would cover immediate assistance for students and library patrons that need access to technology to engage in remote and distance learning in their homes.

The NYCLU’s letter is here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/publications/letter-nysed-remote-learning-concerns].

The NYCLU’s survey is here: https://www.nyclu.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/nyclu_edsurvey_factsheet_5.04.2020.pdf

ACLU National’s letter to Congress is here: https://www.aclu.org/letter/aclu-letter-congress-urging-broadband-access-funding-phase-4-covid-19-package.

A blog post on today’s news is here: https://www.aclu.org/news/disability-rights/in-fear-of-falling-behind-and-privacy-invasions-students-demand-action-on-remote-learning.