Today’s Read: Homeless Families Sue the City Over Wi-Fi Installation, Demand Internet by January 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, New York City schools have once again shuttered for the time being. Yet, eight months into the crisis, thousands of homeless children still do not have the reliable internet access they need to participate in remote learning. Many shelters lack WiFi, and some are in cellular dead zones that render the virtual classroom inaccessible. As a result, homeless children are at risk of falling even further behind their classmates.

The Coalition for the Homeless has raised the issue of internet access in shelters with City officials for months, to no avail. We have sent multiple letters since March detailing the persistent challenges facing students in shelters (a few examples are herehere, and here). On October 8th, the law firm Milbank and The Legal Aid Society sent a letter on our behalf to the Department of Education and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) regarding the lack of internet access for school-age children in DHS shelters. Facing mounting public pressure, the City responded that they would install WiFi in family shelters by next summer – essentially writing off the entire schoolyear for thousands of homeless children.

In light of the City’s piecemeal responses and shameful delays, this week The Legal Aid Society and Milbank, representing the Coalition for the Homeless and shelter residents and their children, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the de Blasio Administration for its failure to provide students who reside in City shelters access to reliable internet service so they can attend school remotely.

Coalition for the Homeless Deputy Executive Director for Policy Shelly Nortz said in a statement:

“Coalition for the Homeless has fought for the educational rights of homeless children and youth for decades. This lawsuit seeks court enforcement of the City’s statutory and Constitutional obligations so that homeless students, who already face daunting educational challenges, are not further harmed. Mayor de Blasio should stop defending the indefensible neglect of homeless students and fix these problems at once.”

Noah Goldberg wrote about the lawsuit for the Daily News:

Filed in Manhattan Federal Court, the lawsuit calls for a judge to force the city to get Wi-Fi in all family shelters across the city no later than Jan. 4, 2021 — the first day of school after winter break.

“My son still struggles with completing his classes. One minute he’s online, the next he’s not,” said one of the homeless parents suing, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I’m frustrated that the mayor isn’t doing something faster because my son is suffering,” the father told The News.

The suit comes a month after the mayor announced the city would install Wi-Fi in every homeless shelter with school-aged children. Advocates blasted the plan as too vague — and too slow.

The plan followed reporting by The News that homeless students were struggling to access online classes, and that some of their families were threatened by school officials or truancy officers for missing school.

The city’s goal is to get Wi-Fi up and running in 27 “priority” shelters by the winter, and to install the Wi-Fi in the rest of the 240 family and domestic violence shelters by summer 2021.

“Ultimately, an education delayed is an education denied. It is neither acceptable nor lawful to require plaintiffs… to accept a lack of genuine access to the virtual classroom for most, if not all, of the 2020-21 school year,” wrote lawyers for the Legal Aid Society, which is representing the families.

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